17 November 2017 | ronsmith-628-823334
An entertaining look at the nature of prayer
Let's address the 800-pound gorilla in the room: "Heavens To Betsy"-- written, directed and produced by Robert Alaniz-- is a faith-based film. That term scares off a lot of would-be viewers. They're afraid that such a movie will be a badly written set of platitudes with poor acting and less-than-professional cinematography. It's the same "bad rap" that Contemporary Christian music gets. Of course, anyone who takes the time to listen to that genre of music or watch Christian films knows nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it should be argued that some of film's greatest triumphs— movies like "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" (and its re-make, "Heaven Can Wait"), "It's A Wonderful Life," "Oh God" and "The Bishop's Wife"— were faith-based films.
"Heavens To Betsy" is Alaniz's eighth full-length feature. Six would not be considered faith-based. He has created science fiction, fantasy, mystery and coming-of-age movies. All have given a glimpse into the human condition with a strong sense of morality. So it's not surprising that he would, in his latest film, address the nature of prayer.
Christians were told by Jesus Himself how to pray in what we call "The Lord's Prayer". Praise God, forgive and even pray for your fallen brothers and sisters and ask for what you need— not want— both physically and spiritually. What is often overlooked in prayer is "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven." Every prayer, even for the lives and well-being of others, should end with "if it be Your will." Obviously, God knows more than we do and has a plan for us all. Nevertheless, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much," as St. James told us.
Betsy Simon is a righteous man. Well, woman. She lives a Godly life, regularly worships and prays not just for herself, but for others. She has never complained when she hasn't received the desired answer, whether it be a bicycle she wanted at age six or the life of her dying sister as an adult.
But something snaps inside this righteous woman when her lifelong ambition— to be a children's book author— is denied her despite all her prayers. She feels betrayed by God, becomes bitter and lashes out at Him for never answering one of her prayers. So our loving God gives her a glimpse of what her life, and she herself, would be like if He had given her everything she prayed for. Yes, everything— including a successful career, that bicycle she wanted as a child, a loveless marriage to a boy she had a crush on in Junior High and even the life of her sister.
The film is a comedy so there are some very funny scenes surrounding her adjustment to a life she knows nothing about filled with furs, mansions and a personal assistant. But she finds that this Betsy has become vain and turned her back on her lifelong values. She forgets that (again from St. James), "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above." This Betsy believes she is the sole architect of her success and her arrogance has corrupted not only herself but her relationship with almost everyone she should hold dear.
Newcomer Karen Lesiewicz is outstanding as Betsy. An accomplished comedienne, she shines even more in her prayers to God, be they whimsical, angry or finally an impassioned cry to be forgiven for treating her Lord and Savior as if he were a spiritual vending machine. As with all of us, God has heard and answered her prayers but often, like the loving Father He is, the answer was "no". Yet He answers her prayer one more time and allows her to set her life right.
Steve Parks, a veteran of Alaniz's films, hits just the right notes as Betsy's personal assistant in her new life. He alone seems unaffected by her successful persona, supports her and subtly steers her towards her redemption.
Of course that redemption could not be possible without Betsy's confidant Pastor John (played wonderfully by Jim O'Heir of TV's "Parks And Recreation"), who comes to believe her story despite much evidence to the contrary and counsels her to accept this rare opportunity to actualize her relationship with the Almighty.
The cast is all top notch but shining lights include Arianna Lexus as Betsy's sister, who is not as Betsy remembers her, MJ Starshak as Betsy's advance woman in a frightening venture and Ruth Kaufman as the book agent who may or may not have deceived her.
The DVD has two endings—one from the theatrical release and one shown on the PureFlix streaming channel. While somewhat different, they both tread the same satisfying moral ground. And one leaves open the possibility of a (to be hoped for) sequel.
Yes, "Heavens To Betsy" is a good faith-based film. But, more important, it's a good film on its own merits, entertaining yet enlightening us to what is most important in our lives, both here and beyond