×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Where Hope Grows’

A fallen-from-grace baseball player gets a shot at redemption with the help of a special friend in Chris Dowling's affecting faith-based drama.

With:
Kristoffer Polaha, David DeSanctis, Billy Zabka, Brooke Burns, Kerr Smith, Michael Grant, Alan Powell, Danica McKellar, McKaley Miller.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3200980/

Neatly avoiding temptations toward mawkish excess, writer-director Chris Dowling hits a solid double with “Where Hope Grows,” his intelligently affecting faith-based drama about a fallen-from-grace baseball player who needs a shot at redemption, and a young grocery clerk who could use a best buddy while dealing with Down syndrome. The uplifting indie drama could draw respectable-sized flocks to megaplexes during limited theatrical release, and then swing for the fences while generating biz in home-screen platforms.

Early scenes briskly establish Calvin Campbell (Kristoffer Polaha, late of TV’s “Backstrom”) as a former high-school hero and Detroit Tigers slugger whose glory days were cut short by panic attacks at the plate. Some 15 years after returning home to Louisville, Ky., with his tail tucked between his legs, he spends much of his time drifting aimlessly through an alcoholic haze, providing amiable companionship for Milt (Billy Zabka), a longtime friend, while drawing scornful disapproval from Katie (McKaley Miller from TV’s “Heart of Dixie”), his 17-year-old daughter.

Initially, Calvin is at best slightly amused — and at worst mildly annoyed — during repeated encounters with Produce (David DeSanctis), an ingenuously ingratiating young man with Down syndrome who’s gainfully employed as a grocery store clerk. (The movie isn’t entirely clear whether Produce is his real name, or a nickname inspired by his job.) “You’re kinda like ‘Rain Man’ or something” is the best response the ex-baseballer can muster when Produce demonstrates his prodigious ability to recall stock numbers for fruits and vegetables.

It takes a while for Calvin to develop a personal interest in Produce, to the point of teaching him the rudiments of baseball. It takes a little longer for him to realize, after alienating both Milt and Katie, that Produce may be his last friend left in the whole wide world.

Dowling makes only a token effort to shoehorn into his scenario a subplot about Milt’s possibly unfaithful wife (Danica McKellar), even though this story element is intended to trigger a major third-act upheaval. On the other hand, Dowling is a tad too emphatic about signaling the stalkerish qualities of Colt (Michael Grant), Katie’s bad-boy boyfriend.

“Where Hope Grows” is most involving and compelling during scenes devoted primarily to the growing bond between Calvin and Produce. Polaha gives a meticulously and effectively understated performance, even as Calvin‘s alcoholism worsens from embarrassingly pathetic to borderline suicidal, suggesting that long-term self-loathing, not heavy drinking, really is what has pushed Calvin to the edge of physical and mental exhaustion.

Just as important, Polaha develops a potent chemistry with DeSanctis, a Kentucky native who makes an impressive screen debut without appearing at all handicapped by his own Down syndrome. It’s funny the first few times Polaha responds awkwardly to one of DeSanctis’ impulsive embraces. But it’s well-nigh heart-wrenching when Polaha illustrates Calvin’s despair by becoming a hugger himself. (It should be noted, however, that Dowling pointedly ignores a rather distracting plot hole until the final scenes, and then only partially patches it.)

“Where Hope Grows” clearly is on the side of the angels, but Dowling has too much respect for his characters, and his audience, to climax with some sort of melodramatic elevation of Calvin into the ranks of the born again. Fairly early in the proceedings, Produce is rendered as a devout churchgoer who takes his Bible with him almost everywhere. But Calvin at first comes across as someone who lost his religion a long time ago. And it takes more than his attraction to another churchgoer — Amy (Brooke Burns), who also plays a significant role in Calvin’s reformation — to quickly change that.

Like most if not all faith-based entertainments, “Where Hope Grows” embraces the idea that God works in mysterious ways. But it also insists that God helps only those who help themselves.

Tech values, including a soundtrack filled with pleasant tunes by Christian and secular recording artists, are first-rate across the board.

Film Review: 'Where Hope Grows'

Reviewed online, Houston, May 12, 2015. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 96 MIN.

Production: A Roadside Attractions release of a Stealth Tiger Entertainment presentation of a Godspeed Pictures and Attic Light Films production in association with the Matadors. Produced by Steve Bagheri, Simran Singh, Milan Chakraborty. Executive producer, Jessed S. Jones. Co-producer, Alex Lehmann. Co-executive producers, Sev Ohanian, Gill Holland.

Crew: Directed, written by Chris Dowling. Camera (color), Alex Lehmann; editor, Soojin Chung; music, Kyle Newmaster; production designer, Becca Brooks Morrin; art director, Grace Hollaender; set designer, Jeff McGrath; costume designer, Carisa Kelly; sound, Timothy Munger; stunt coordinator, Jason Kehler; assistant director, Laura O’Keefe; casting, Amber Horn, Danielle Augier, Kathy Campbell.

With: Kristoffer Polaha, David DeSanctis, Billy Zabka, Brooke Burns, Kerr Smith, Michael Grant, Alan Powell, Danica McKellar, McKaley Miller.

More Film

  • Bob Berney

    Bob Berney to Leave Amazon Studios' Head of Marketing and Distribution Position

    Bob Berney, Amazon Studios’ head of marketing and distribution, is stepping down, Variety has confirmed. Berney was hired by Amazon in 2015 and recently reached the end of his four-year contract. His last day will be Friday. During his time at amazon, the film veteran oversaw a number of successful films including “Manchester by the [...]

  • NEW YORK, NY – JUNE, 24:

    LGBTQ Stars Honored at Variety’s Power of Pride Celebration

    New York City felt the full power of pride on Monday, as Variety celebrated its inaugural issue devoted to the annual recognition of LGBTQ people worldwide. At an intimate gathering at lower east side Manhattan hotel The Orchid, rooftop bar Mr. Purple hosted Variety’s cover stars and luminaries for cocktails and the unveiling of the [...]

  • Joel Silver Exits Silver Pictures

    Joel Silver Exits Silver Pictures

    Top Hollywood producer Joel Silver has exited his production company Silver Pictures, Variety has confirmed. “Joel Silver recently indicated that he intends to leave Silver Pictures and go out on his own,” Hal Sadoff, a former ICM Partners agent who joined Silver Pictures several years ago as CEO, said in a statement. “We are working [...]

  • Billy Eichner Power of Pride Variety

    Billy Eichner on Taylor Swift's 'Calm Down' Backlash

    When Taylor Swift released her “You Need to Calm Down” music video, it seemed like every member of the LGBTQ in Hollywood was included — except for Billy Eichner. “I’m still not gay enough for Taylor Swift — or too gay — I don’t know what it is,” Eichner joked at Variety’s Power of Pride [...]

  • Ewen Bremner as Alan McGee in

    Danny Boyle-Produced ‘Creation Stories’ Adds Jason Isaacs, Steven Berkoff

    Jason Isaacs, Steven Berkoff and a host of other new names have signed on for “Creation Stories,” the film being exec-produced by Danny Boyle about Creation Records co-founder Alan McGee. The producers also unveiled the first shots of Ewen Bremner (“Trainspotting”) as the music mogul. Production is underway on the Irvine Welsh-penned project, with “Lock, [...]

  • 'Annabelle Comes Home' Review: This Grab

    Film Review: 'Annabelle Comes Home'

    In a country that should probably think about renaming itself the American Entertainment State, fan culture now produces an obsessive level of pop scholasticism, one that can parse the rules and details of movies and TV shows as if they were fine points of law. In a review of a horror movie, I once called [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content