Not many Canadian movies make it all the way to my DVD player, but invariably they are a cut above most Hollywood movies. This is one of the better ones. The writing and acting are so good, every bit of this movie is captivating. It would be hard to find one false step. And, having been a kid myself in the 1950s, and receiving some Catholic education, I can also say it is very authentic for the period.
Previously an unknown to me, young Adam Butcher gives an award quality performance as Ralph Walker, a high school freshman in 1953 whose father is deceased and his mother is in the hospital. Although he is home alone, he has a friend with good penmanship write notes from has grandparents who supposedly are staying with him. He is a reprobate of sorts, smoking cigs every chance he gets and often confessing his various sins of the heart and "personal abuse." But Ralph loves his mother, visits her every day at the hospital, and is of course very distraught when mom lapses into a coma. The nurse (Jennifer Tilly) tells him, "It will take a miracle to get her out of the coma."
Campbell Scott is excellent as Father George, one of Ralph's teachers who coincidentally happened to be a top marathon runner in 1936, and who teaches cross country. Ralph joins the cross country squad as a way to earn the pain of penance, hoping his reformed life and prayer will result in the miracle that will heal his mother. Fr. George casually mentions the Boston Marathon in a few months, as a joke, but Ralph takes it seriously. Expressing an interest to Fr. George, who replies, "It would take a miracle for you to win Boston." Ralph puts his and the nurse's comments together, if he can win Boston, that would be the miracle that would heal his mother.
Not allowing anyone to dissuade him, Ralph is a pathetic runner but vows to train harder than anyone else. The very strict school master Father Fitzpatrick (Gordon Pinsent) tries to put a stop to it, "A boy needs to know his place in life", but Fr. George reluctantly and in defiance agrees to coach Ralph. Meanwhile mom lies in a coma with no signs of improvement.
MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW. Ralph wins a local race around the lake, surprising everyone but himself. Still, Boston will be a whole different story. He enters, one of the boys locks himself into the media room at school and plays the radio broadcast of the race. Near the end Ralph hangs on and runs nip and tuck with last year's Boston winner, but is nipped at the tape. Ralph finishes second, believes he has failed. But he receives a warm hero's reception at school, even the admiration of strict Fr. Fitz. He even gets the girl who had said she would become a nun. Then, his mom came out of her coma, even finishing second in Boston was a miracle!