Mr. Church is Undercooked but Still Appetizing
- Ryan Duncan
- 2016 15 Sep
While this heartfelt story of familial love doesn’t serve up anything too exciting, Mr. Church still manages to entertain thanks to a handful of winning performances. 3.5 out of 5.
In the 1970s, a young Charlotte "Charlie" Brody (Britt Robertson) is awakened one morning to find a strange man making eggs in her mother's kitchen. That man is Mr. Church (Eddie Murphy), a cook hired by her mother's former lover to take care of them for the next six months. Though Charlie is initially reluctant to have Mr. Church around, her demeanor softens when she discovers that her mother is dying of breast cancer, and Mr. Church is helping to ease her final days. Eventually, a unique friendship is struck between the young girl and the mysterious cook, with Mr. Church teaching Charlie all about books, music, and cooking. As Charlie begins to plot her future, she can't help but wonder what will become of Mr. Church, and the past he seems so intent on hiding.
Similar to 2014's The Hundred-Foot Journey, the food becomes its own character throughout the film. Mr. Church serves up everything from sumptuous pastas to radiant apple pies, helping provide the movie with some much-needed texture. It's so nice, one wishes the food played an even bigger role in the story. As for the acting, Mr. Church shines best when either Murphy or Natascha McElhone take the screen. Murphy, playing his most subdued role in recent memory, completely disappears into the steadfast character of Mr. Church. Meanwhile, McElhone delivers a truly heartbreaking performance as Charlie's mother Marie, a woman dealing with the emotional devastation of cancer and the fear of leaving her daughter behind. When these two are working in tandem, Mr. Church is a story worth watching.
Sadly, the plot has a tendency to wander. Rather than focus on a specific period of time, the film attempts to follow Charlie through the various stages of her life, something which proves exhausting for the viewer. It doesn't help that Charlie also repeatedly tries to dispense vital information through gratuitous narration, causing audiences to bounce back and forth between action and longwinded monologues. Perhaps Mr. Church's biggest sin, though, is its treatment of the title character. The film tries too hard to imply the nature of Church's life and past. Church himself tries to excuses this by saying he's "a very private person," but after living with someone for six years, one would think you could open up a little. As a result, Mr. Church remains an intriguing character, but not a very deep one.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
Despite its title, Mr. Church is fairly devoid of any spiritual or faith-based elements, the one exception being miracles. Though only given six months to live, Charlie's mother manages to survive six years, something the family attributes to a miracle. Charlie herself was also an unplanned baby, and when she tries to describe herself as an accident, her mother gently corrects her by saying she was a miracle. Later, when Charlie herself accidentally becomes pregnant, she refers to her own daughter as a miracle.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, sexual situations, and intense drama
- Language/Profanity: Plenty of profanity, D*mn, H*ll, the Lord's name is taken in vain, S*it, *ss, Fa**ot.
- Sexuality/Nudity: Mr. Church is hired by Marie's ex-lover who is married; Charlie's friend Poppy believes "everyone needs a man, sometimes more than one"; construction workers whistle at women; a girl says she “was an accident”; Charlie’s mother needs to be bathed during her cancer treatment but nothing is shown; kids dance at prom; a kiss between teenagers; Charlie gets pregnant out of wedlock; an adult Poppy claims she "married well both times"; implications are made about Mr. Church’s past.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: Poppy comes from a family of thieves; one character is said to have accidentally killed a young boy while driving drunk; Charlie's mother dies of breast cancer; Mr. Church routinely arrives home at night in a drunken rage; a pregnant woman is accidentally tackled; one character admits he planned to commit suicide; Mr. Church dies of lung cancer; Mr. Church admits his father physically and verbally abused him.
Drugs/Alcohol: Several characters smoke cigarettes, a number of characters are alcoholics, some men are shown to be drunk.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Single moms, foodies, people looking for a good cry movie, introverts.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Impatient viewers, children, those looking for something more fast-paced.
Mr. Church, directed by Bruce Beresford, opened in theaters September 16, 2016; available for home viewing October 25, 2016. It runs 104 minutes and stars Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, Natascha McElhone, Xavier Samuel, Christian Madsen, Lucy Fry and McKenna Grace. Watch the trailer for Mr. Church here.
Ryan Duncan is an Editor for Crosswalk.com.
Publication date: September 16, 2016