Review by Kam Williams
Marie Brody (Natascha McElhone) was told she only had half-a-year to live when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1965. But, not wanting to upset her daughter, she initially hid the fact that she was terminally-ill from 10 year-old Charlotte (Natalie Coughlin).
Marie’s recently-deceased boyfriend did her a big favor by providing in his will for a chef (Eddie Murphy) who’d prepare all of her meals until the day she she died. So, you can imagine Charlie’s shock the day a mysterious black man knocks on the door and announces he’s their new full-time cook.
Initially, Marie balks at the intrusion, given how Mr. Church never bothers to measure his ingredients or use utensils besides a fork and knife while at work in the kitchen. Plus, some of his exotic dishes, like hominy grits, certainly take a little getting used to.
Church nevertheless attempts to ingratiate himself by extending his daily duties beyond the culinary, happily serving as a surrogate father to Charlie and as a home health aide to her mom. Marie gradually warms to the stranger when he whets her thirst for knowledge by bringing over classic books by literary greats like Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and Edith Wharton. More importantly, Marie proceeds to outlive her doctor’s death sentence, and a term of employment that was supposed to last merely for months stretches into the next decade.
That is the poignant premise of Mr. Church, a bittersweet period piece directed by two-time Oscar-nominee Bruce Beresford (for Tender Mercies and Breaker Morant). The picture’s semi-autobiographical screenplay was inspired by the life of its scriptwriter, Susan McMartin.
The film works to the extent one is able to scale a couple of high hurdles placed in your path. First, you have to buy into the idea of perennial funnyman Eddie Murphy playing a serious role. Second, one must be willing to stomach yet another, stereotypical “Magical Negro” character, meaning a selfless, African-American more concerned with the welfare of a white person than with his or her own needs.
Additionally, a few of the plot developments are a little farfetched. For instance, have you ever heard of anybody saving up enough money to pay for college by clipping coupons? Neither have I.
Overall, a mildly-recommended period piece, provided you’re prepared to take seriously the same Eddie Murphy who kept you in stitches as Buckwheat in that hilarious Saturday Night Live skit. Otay?
Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes
Running time: 105 minutes
Distributor: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
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