15 February 2006 | Andreas_N
Nostalgic Christmas story about love and hope
The Angel Doll is based on the book by Jerry Bledsoe and written and directed by Alexander Johnston, who died shortly after making this movie. It is an enchanting and touching true story told through the eyes of Jerry Barlow (Michael Welch), a ten-year-old boy. The setting of this beautifully acted and moving tale of family life is the nostalgic world of small-town America. Jerry lives in the southern town of Thomasville, and the year is 1950. The summer has just begun, and it is going to be a summer that will change Jerry's life forever. He is doing his paper round for the town store, dreaming about a Schwinn Black Phantom bike and getting up to innocent mischief with his mates. When he meets "Whitey" Black (Cody Newton), they become best friends. Whitey is a boy from a troubled family his father died, his mother (Diana Scarwid) drinks to blot out life's miseries and his little four-year-old sister Sandy lies bedridden with polio. Yet although he lives a tough life, Whitey has a heart of gold. Sandy's only comfort from her illness is her love for angels. So Whitey and his friends set out to find an angel doll as a special Christmas gift for Sandy. It is the ultimate quest of hope, and the boys learn what is truly important in their lives.
Next to Michael Welsh and Cody Newton, The Angel Doll also features a strong line-up of grown up acting talent, including Oscar winner Keith Carradine (Nashville, The Long Riders), Oscar nominee Diana Scarwid, Betsy Brantley, Pat Hingle and Nick Searcy.
The story is a very effective combination of childhood nostalgia with all its enchanting features and sincere messages of life. The movie primarily shows all the stereotypical aspects of family life in small-town America. Jerry's family fits very much into this pattern and is introduced as the typical American family of the 50s. Jerry and his friends are very imaginative boys. They fight battles with sticks and stones and even launch an expedition into a nearby army camp, which turns out to be a daring adventure that unravels the dangers of polio as a contagious disease.
The entire story is told through the eyes of Jerry, and thus his naivety and his simple-minded perception of life grants the movie just the right amount of sensibility and plain fun. There are various scenes that strongly reflect the coming-of-age theme as a very pervasive sub-theme of the plot. The hysteria of catching polio leads to a very interesting conversation between Jerry and his mother (Betsy Brentley) about fears and personal integrity. Jerry also learns a lot about challenges and struggles. He learns that friendship is really one of the most important things in life, and that dreams are a necessity to maintain hope and strength.
The issues of death and loss are very strong themes as well and add a lot of authenticity to the coming-of-age process Jerry in particular undergoes. Whitey loves Sandy with all his heart, but at the same time she is a very heavy emotional burden for him to bear. His gift for her is an ultimate sign of affection, showing his deep love and heart wrenching commitment to make her happy. One of the most compelling messages of the story shines through at the end when Jerry realizes that Whitey is gone. He is told that "Sooner or later, everybody loses a friend in their lives." Brilliant.
The Angel Doll is a story about Christmas and the most solemn human virtues. It is indeed a story of one lasting summer and nostalgic childhood memories. At the same time it takes a sentimental look at growing up and learning a lot about yourself and the world around you. It features inspirational themes as well as sincere depictions of how hard and unjust life can be. Just as when Whitey loses the money he has saved for the angel doll, he is down and out. Then Jerry steps in and shows genuine compassion for his friend's needs, thus renewing hope and inciting new confidence in Whitey. This is the main message. Care for those who need you and always remember that giving hope to someone else is the most rewarding gift anyone can give. Be it an angel doll for you ailing sister, pocket money for your struggling friend, donations for children's hospitals or Christmas gifts beneath the tree. Although there is loss and death everywhere around us, it is hope that brings us together and makes us carry on.