When I first saw the premise, I thought the movie would be similar to VARSITY BLUES (without the sports, of course)...somewhat cheesy and predictable. However as the story develops, one will notice that Joe Johnston actually had a well-thought out plan for this feature. The story is moving and compelling, and will affect you emotionally in ways movies like these rarely do.
The reason? It's a simple movie, with a relatively familiar backdrop, but it's done very straightforwardly with no hint of pretension. At times there is some degree of predictability, but then the story takes rather unexpected turns. Just when you think you know exactly what will happen, the movie will prove your alleged clairvoyance wrong.
The standout in this movie for me is the interaction between Jake Gyllenhaal and Chris Cooper. This interaction provides one of the more complex and layered father/son relationships you will see in a movie of this nature. Laura Dern also has a small role but manages it quite effectively.
Moreover, much has been done to recreate the 1950s ambiance; from the costumes to the art decoration to the architecture, this movie looks and feels like it is based in the 1950s, adding to the overall viewing experience.
I would recommend this for anyone looking to see a (much) better-than-average film about belief in oneself and achieving one's dreams in the face of adversity, although this movie is much more than just that. Not for those who think cheesy special effects and mind-numbingly lewd comedy are prerequisites for a good film.
3.5 stars (out of 4). 8/10. Should warrant a place in my Honourable Mentions list.
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