30 September 2017 | Hey_Sweden
As my great-aunt Ida used to say...
"The Beniker Gang" is definitely agreeable family fare, a feature film adaptation of the novel "Dear Lola" by Judie Angell. Andrew McCarthy stars as Arthur Beniker, an 18 year old at an orphanage who is very close to some of his fellow orphans: Cassie (Jennifer Dundas), Edmund (Charles Fields), James (Jeff Alan-Lee), and Ben (Danny Pintauro). So much so, in fact, that the five of them are willing to do anything not to let their little "family" get split up. One day, they make a break from the orphanage, and travel cross country to set down roots in Missouri. They face snobbery from suspicious local townspeople, and Arthurs' capabilities as a supervisory figure come into question, although he's actually maintained a good living as the person behind the nationally syndicated "Dear Lola" advice column.
The film isn't exactly all that sensible, or realistic, in some ways. But the five young actors in the primary roles are just so damn appealing that you do buy into them as a family of sorts. They also have good chemistry with each other. (One oddball character quirk that the story gives Ben is that he has a tendency to eat paper(!).) You also certainly understand Arthurs' decision to want to plead his case in court.
This is ultimately a warm-hearted fable, with adequate pacing, and decent location shooting in New Jersey and New York state. It's not subtle when it wants to manipulate you, and some viewers may have a hard time keeping the tears at bay. But it does also have a good sense of humour, and at its best it can be pretty charming. One twist well into the story has Alan-Lee revealing his past, born into a carny background, and toting around a makeup kit that could easily rival the legendary Lon Chaneys'.
The performances are wonderful right across the board. McCarthy is excellent, and the supporting cast features a number of familiar, reliable actors: Will Patton, George Martin, J.T. Walsh, William Duell, Bill Smitrovich, and Anthony Heald.
Appropriate viewing for your younger family members.
Seven out of 10.