Opening Theatrical Release Date: May 15th 2015
DVD Release Date: August 25th 2015
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
Where Hope Grows– Starring Kris Polaha, McKaley Miller, Michael Grant, David DeSanctis, William Zabka, Danica McKellar, Kerr Smith, Brooke Burns, Alan Powell
Every once in a while, a film sticks out and makes you go ‘wow’! Like God’s Not Dead, Mom’s Night Out, 23 Blast and The Perfect Wave last year, films that have layer upon layer of hidden gems and treasures, films that touch and inspire us to be better people, and films that question the status quo and challenge what we believe and why we believe it. Debuting in 2014 at the Dallas International Film Festival in 2014, and releasing nationally in America earlier this year, the heart-warming thought provoking educational and encouraging movie Where Hope Grows, directed by Chris Dowling, is one such film that has indeed captured my heart and made me seriously think about life, much like the previous films I have reviewed here, and this film has indeed made me actively pay more attention in response to the many, many issues the film raises. So what’s this film about? What’s the message? Why have I not reviewed any film all year (though it’s not intentional!) and have now decided to share my thoughts on this particular one? Let’s find out, shall we?
Starring Kris Polaha (who has starred in TV shows such as Ringer, Backstrom, Mad Men, Life Unexpected and Made In Jersey) as the main character Calvin Campbell, the film’s premise follows a snapshot of the life of a down and out ex-baseball player, whose playing days were cut short due to anxiety and psychological issues. As the film progresses, Calvin embarks on a remarkable journey, one that inspires us to live life to the full and to embrace every moment that comes our way, yet at the start of the film, Calvin is in a very bad place. With his alcoholism on full display for everyone to see (there are plenty of beer bottles and wine bottles in the pantry in his house!), Calvin doesn’t even attempt to try to have a real relationship with his teenage daughter Katie (McKaley Miller from Hart Of Dixie).
Almost as soon as the movie starts, we see Calvin subconsciously rejecting spending time with his daughter on his birthday and instead spending time and celebrating his birthday with his friends Milton (William Zabka) and Franklin (Alan Powell of the band Anthem Lights) at a local bar, with Calvin not coming home until midnight, and extremely drunk as well. Acting like a hypocrite (in the sense that it’s ‘ok’ for Calvin to do what he wants, but not his daughter!), Calvin lashes out at Katie, for wanting to drive around with her on again-off again boyfriend Colt (Michael Grant) after midnight, and also publicly reminds Katie that she’s 16 and Colt’s too old for her, even when Katie reminds him that she’s 17. Showing us the strain Calvin and Katie apparently have, and highlighting the fact that Calvin is out of control. The next morning, no words need to be spoken, as even at breakfast, Calvin and Katie enter into a shouting match, in which the subject matter is nothing really, then Calvin storms off to the shops to cool his head.
Yet with every storm, there’s guaranteed to be a silver lining. And this silver lining in this film comes in the form of supermarket worker Produce, whom Calvin meets while he is shopping early on in the film. This is where I think people should really pay attention, as the friendship between Calvin and Produce is essential to the core message of the film, and the way both protagonists mould and shape each other into better people. Also, David DeSanctis, who plays Produce, is the real star of the show in my opinion. In every scene he’s in, David shines, and before I say anything else, let me highlight the fact that David has Down Syndrome, and he’s acting as a character who has Down Syndrome as well. Yep Produce’s ‘disability’ if you want to call it that, is in part of what helps Calvin out of his funk and begin to embrace life and live it to the full.
Produce is filled with innocence, and his simplistic yet refreshing view of the world is something to note and to watch over and over again. Because Produce’s joy and hope come from within, not from the circumstances that he finds himself in. While Calvin is at the beginning of the film living in self-pity and wallowing in the past because of his regrets and past failures, Produce is relishing and really living in the present, because of a hope and real love found in Jesus Christ. It is revealed in the film that Produce attends church, and several times during Produce and Calvin’s budding friendship, Produce encourages Calvin to attend. When Calvin asks Produce if the reason he’s happy all the time is because he attends church, if that’s what his secret is, the response is telling- Produce says that there’s no secret to living life happy, implying that Jesus’ love and abundant life is available to all of us- as the ‘secret’ of Jesus isn’t a secret, and we should share God’s love to whomever we meet, which is essentially what Produce is doing with Calvin. He is covertly sharing God’s love to Calvin, and helping him see and understand that circumstances and our situations and conditions do not determine our worth and happiness.
See, Calvin was placing his worth on his baseball- it’s clear to note that in the beginning of the film that he was in a depressive and unhappy state for a while, but Produce, who by all accounts should be feeling down because medically speaking there is something ‘wrong’ with him, is not worried nor fazed by the extra pressure and added stares and pitying looks he received from being who he is. At the beginning of the film, we see Produce living alone and getting ready for work, without a full time carer or guardian, and if that doesn’t inspire us, and remind us that our problems we think we have aren’t really problems at all, then I don’t know what will. While in the film Produce teaches Calvin how to let go of the past and live in the moment, looking around us and appreciating the beauty of the world, Calvin also teaches Produce, how to play baseball and to understand that he believes in him, even when Produce’s manager doesn’t. Produce is really good at his job, because all he wants to do is become employee of the month, but when that doesn’t happen for a few consecutive months (yep, this film is set over the course of a while!), Calvin reassures him that Produce is indeed the employee of the month, in Calvin’s eyes. That makes Produce’s day, and we are glimpsed into a fraction of the extent that God must love us- we are special in His eyes even if the world thinks we are not. And if that’s the only take home message we realise by the end of the film, then I think Where Hope Grows has done its job quite nicely.
Though apart from the major storyline of Calvin and Produce helping each other to become better people, culminating in Produce eventually becoming ‘ball boy of the month’ and helping Calvin with his new job, his second calling as the coach of a major league baseball team; Where Hope Grows also touches upon a few more areas that I think are prevalent in society, and issues that we all need to tackle head on. Emotionally distant from her father near the start of the film, Katie Campbell puts her self-worth and her entire being into a boy, specifically into Colt, who she likes apparently more than he likes her. In fact, as the film progresses, it’s apparent that he doesn’t even respect her and is only ‘into the relationship’ because he wants to sleep with her. And while the film doesn’t really offer up any alternative of what young women should do to ensure they aren’t pressured into having sex, the film does open up a lot of discussion around that topic, and asks the question of what should we do if someone we know is sleeping with someone else to gain status, or for personal gain?
But that’s not all. While Where Hope Grows speaks about the unlikely friendship between two people in different stages of their life, who help each other in real and unexpected ways, as well as delving into the reality that teenagers can lose their virginity to someone they may regret later on in the future; the film also explores emotional affairs. Calvin’s friend Milton, a drinking buddy (and later on a former drinking buddy, as Calvin gives up drinking sometime in the film!), offers up his home to Franklin, another of Calvin’s friends, after Franklin is evicted from his home due to him not paying his rent. But what happens throughout the film, is that Franklin imposes himself subtly into Milton’s marriage, and tries to steal his wife and kids away from him. The one storyline that has an ambiguous ending (of which I am not going to spoil!), this topic is as real as can be, as we are confronted with the reality that to make marriages work, we need to be intentional and committed to our spouses, and choose every day to want to be married to that person. Milton was passive in his marriage, and the end result was partially attributed to his neglect of his family and drinking, so I am certain that after we all watch this thought provoking film, that we would try to not be passive in anything we do, but be active- the results that arise will be much more pleasant!
As far my opinion on the actors and their portrayals of their characters are concerned, everyone acted superbly. It was great seeing Kris and McKaley on my screen again after their series Backstrom and Hart Of Dixie ended this year respectively- they are both talented actors, and they both made their characters of Calvin and Calvin’s daughter Katie respectively, as alive as I could imagine. William Zabka is also impressive as the cynical, sometimes pragmatic and worldly best friend of Calvin, while David DeSanctis certainly deserves some kind of recognition in what is a breakout role in what is surely to be a long acting career ahead of him. Portraying Produce with assurance, elegance, professionalism, and proficiency, personally there could not be anyone else more suited for the role, as David was so immersed in the role, and his enthusiasm, happiness and joy is overflowing, filling me up with cheer as well.
When you compare Where Hope Grows with other faith based films released in 2015, it may not stack up come year’s end, against others such as Do You Believe, Woodlawn, War Room, 90 Minutes In Heaven, Faith Of Our Fathers and Hillsong’s documentary Let Hope Rise! However, the indie film shows enough heart and human interest for us to be interested in both Calvin and Produce’s journeys. Also raising awareness about the reality of people with Down Syndrome, as we empathise with their plight and how they haven’t had life as easy as ours, yet they still forge forward, ahead each day as they move; if someone wasn’t a Christian before, maybe they are now, and that is my hope and prayer that this film accomplishes that, in the most unobtrusive and kindest way possible. A film where the main and overarching theme and important message is about the fact that we can be happy in the immense love of God for his children, despite our circumstances; I believe that Where Hope Grows is a must watch in 2015, even though it might not be one of my all-time favourite movies. As a faith based film, everyone involved has created a masterpiece, and if not anything else this film is a fantastic tool to evangelise to your non-Christian friends, as we share in the journey of Calvin and of Produce as well. Well done Chris, Kris, David, McKaley, William, Alan and co; you guys have developed and shown us a heart-warming and enjoyable movie, which no doubt will have people talking about the many, many issues present in the film!