Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Saint Ralph

Is this film based on a true story? Of course not. But you can't help but ask yourself that question as you watch this film. The incredible against-all-odds determination and grit of the young Canadian named Ralph (Adam Butcher) seem to defy logic. The stuff that true stories seem to be made of. Instead, Saint Ralph is the product of Director Michael McGowan's imagination.

Ralph Walker is a troubled ninth-grader who attends a private Catholic school. His mother (Shauna McDonald) lies hospitalized and believes her son is staying with friends. Ralph has convinced the school that he resides with his grandparents (who are both deceased). Ralph has a lot of issues...he seems to have his own set of rules. He smokes, swears and likes to diddle himself. He also finds himself the target of school bullies. Yet the troubled teen seems to have an incredible capacity for moving forward in spite of setbacks.

Ralph's mother falls into a coma after he explains to her that a flaw in the design of the public pool was the cause of his embarrassing emission into that body of water. The subsequent harassment seems to roll off of the young man, who is absorbed with his mother's illness. Upon hearing about miracles, he becomes obsessed by the idea that he can give his mother a miracle by performing one on his own. His objective is to run and win the Boston Marathon. In the process, he manages to stoke the anger of the head priest, burn down his house, alienate his friends and enlist the aid of a former Olympian. The improbable events are portrayed in a surprisingly believable format.

McGowan weaves the story around the five months between Ralph's epiphany and the Marathon. The "chapters" are tied to festivals of various Saints. I am not sure if McGowan tailored the film to the corresponding Saints or if he was able to find Saints for each month that related to a specific theme for that chapter. Either way, there are different concepts at work during each stage of the film and those ideas are loosely tied to the cause of the Saint representing that chapter. It was an interesting side note that added an element of interest to the story.

The plot is fairly straight forward. It is your typical run-of-the-mill beating the odds story of human will and overcoming challenges. What makes Saint Ralph special is the stuff in between. We have a pretty good idea where the film is headed, but it is the journey that the audience can enjoy. The setbacks often seem insurmountable, but are presented in a credible way. The characters are extremely well developed and engaging. The human qualities in the characters provides the film with necessary believability. That is what makes one ask "is this a true story?" The characters are the core of the story. The dialogue was also great. The exchanges were not always predictable. Ultimately, the story tugs at your heart strings and manipulates your emotions. It is tastefully done, and if you are not connected to the action you probably have no soul.

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