Mr Church

Starring: Britt Robertson, Eddie Murphy, Natascha McElhone, Xavier Samuel, Lucy Fry, Christian Madsen, Mckenna Grace
Directed By: Bruce Beresford

Plot: Young Charlie wakes up one morning to find a black man cooking her breakfast. He turns out to be a gift from a former lover of her mother’s (McElhone), but Charlie doesn’t know why, until she finds out her mom is dying of cancer. This man, Mr Church, becomes an integral part of Charlie’s life, all the way through adulthood (Robertson). How can Charlie repay such kindness?

What Works: Eddie Murphy gives a good performance here, but we need to briefly talk about something I call “burying the lead”, which is a phenomenon where a lesser actor/actress actually is the lead of the film, despite all marketing attempts to the contrary. This was true most recently with Florence Foster Jenkins, where Hugh Grant was clearly the lead. The story followed him, and we saw Florence through his eyes. She was rarely on screen without him. This is true of Mr Church (Murphy). He is not the lead of the film. Charlie is. Mr Church is rarely on screen without Charlie, and his story is told from Charlie’s perspective. For Oscar consideration, I would consider Murphy in the supporting category. If you’re thinking about renting this just for Murphy, who hasn’t been on screen in a long time, it’s worth noting that I don’t think this is even his best performance. I think he does solid work, but his role is so heavily muted, it’d be like giving him an award for not doing a spit take. Do we give awards now for people who just show up and keep a straight face? Sure, he has a few moments of range, but there have been much stronger performances this year.

What Doesn’t Work: Basically, everything else. It’s a film that pretends to be a sob story, but really enjoys feel good moments too much. It’s an odd mix of bitter and sugar sweet that just didn’t work for me. I also hated the score to the film. It felt cheap, and it cheapened the movie. I love Britt Robertson, but she’s out of her depth here. When she was given really heavy scenes, it just didn’t work for me. It showed me she’s not as underrated as I thought. Bruce Beresford has never really directed a terrible film that I’ve seen, but he’s directed a few mediocre efforts, and I’d lump that in with those. To be fair, I actually knew this film was going to suck when in the first few moments of the film, the camera cuts to a cigarette that’s almost finished resting on an ashtray. We see Murphy reach for it, and the camera then cuts to him smoking… an almost full cigarette. Come on now guys.

Final Word: I’m not angry I saw it, it’s just not good enough for me to recommend this to anyone else. There are better films out there, even films that showcase a much more dynamic Eddie Murphy. I’m glad this got Murphy back into the picture, but there have to be better roles for him than just standing around being polite for a whole movie.

FINAL GRADE: C

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