Impressive Drama Offers Many Reasons to 'Smile'
- Thursday, April 07, 2005
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Occasionally – it doesn’t happen often – going to the movies serves our fellow man. Such is the case with an impressive little drama called “Smile.”
The film begins in a rural Chinese village after the abandonment of a newborn. The infant, born with a facial deformity, has been discarded, but found by a kindhearted man who raises her as his own daughter. Across the world, another baby is born on the same day, this one to a life of privilege where she grows up in Malibu, Calif. Though worlds apart, these two girls will affect each others’ lives – and most likely the lives of those who view this movie.
Writer/director Jeff Kramer wrote the story after he realized that his own teenage daughter had been profoundly affected by her involvement in a humanitarian organization known as Operation Smile. It is a medical organization founded in 1972 to help children around the world born with facial deformities. Their outstanding work has bettered the lives of thousands of children and helped open doors for a westerner to make a movie with complete endorsement by the Chinese government.
“Working in China was challenging,” Kramer said. “China is rooted in decades of separation, but the mutual respect we experienced resulted in relationships that will last a lifetime. Artistic integrity and work ethic was as good as I’ve ever experienced. Everybody was eager to show their best stuff.
“After a brief period of establishing comfort, the Chinese, American and international crew worked without barriers,” Kramer continued. “Even the language differences were overcome through the art of filmmaking. In the small town, Jinjxi, where we shot a good portion of the film, we were treated like family. Local artists were painting pictures of our sets and giving them as gifts.”
The film focuses on a self-centered teen from an affluent Malibu family who is cute and at the top of the social order at her school. Struggling with adolescent issues, including whether or not to have sex with her boyfriend, Katie (Mika Boorem – “Blue Crush,” “Sleepover”) is beginning to sense that there is more to life than what’s offered by her preferential world. When a favorite teacher presents an opportunity to get involved with a charitable group, she hastily agrees to travel to China as a volunteer, not realizing that the trip will change her life.
Meanwhile, Lin (Yi Ding – “The Joy Luck Club,” “The Amazing Panda Adventure”) has grown up in a Chinese village protected by her loving adoptive father who learns of the medical organization who might help his daughter. He takes Lin to the far-off big city, but when he is injured in an accident, they are unable to get to the surgeons before they return to America. The father and daughter sadly retreat to their hometown, and Lin’s dream of escape from her self-imposed isolation go unfulfilled.
After arriving in China, Katie becomes overwhelmed by viewing the deformed children in person. It is heartbreaking and more than she can handle emotionally. Her first instinct is to leave for home, but a compassionate nurse (Cheri Oteri – “Saturday Night Live”) helps the youngster through the initial ordeal and soon Katie begins to see the profound impact of her efforts.
Learning of Lin’s disappointment and the fact that they were born on the same day, Katie sneaks off to find the girl. Katie is changing. Her journey to China has suddenly become selfless. And that is the missing element to life she has searched for: Caring for others brings her purpose and fulfillment.
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