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Family Movie Review: Where Hope Grows (PG-13)

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MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 99 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 13+. The faith-based film is about a washed-up former athlete who drinks too much and isn’t a great father to his teenage daughter, so there is a good amount of drinking and drunkenness, some teenage rebellion including a girl talking back to her father, some kissing and talk about teenagers having sex, an attempted sexual assault, the suggestion of marital infidelity, and some bullying, language (including the word “retarded” used as an insult), and violence, including a car accident and a character’s death. There is some over-the-top stuff here, but it’s presented in a way that will encourage discussions instead of limit them.

‘Where Hope Grows’ is one of the most-open-minded faith-based films released so far this year, with insightful themes that inspire rather than proselytize. The film about baseball, fatherly love, and unlikely friendship will be a good conversation-starter for parents and children alike.

By Roxana Hadadi

Faith-based films can sometimes be little more than a sermon, but “Where Hope Grows” pleasantly goes above and beyond. The film about a former professional baseball player who loses his way includes some things you would expect from a Christian film, like a character who carries a Bible around everywhere and a subplot including Alcoholics Anonymous, but for the most the religious themes feel natural. The emotional beats and the realistic relationships it creates between characters, like father and daughter and father and faux-son, set “Where Hope Grows” apart and should make it a choice for family movie night.

“Where Hope Grows” focuses on Calvin Campbell (Kristoffer Polaha), a 30-something ex-baseball player who choked in the professional league. His anxiety issues have left him without a steady paycheck and with a resentful teenage daughter, Katie (McKaley Miller), who takes out her frustrations with him by dating the local up-and-coming sports star, a jerk who doesn’t understand when no means no. Relying too heavily on alcohol and unsure of where to turn for either his career or his family life, Calvin strikes up an unexpected bond at the grocery store with a young man with Down syndrome, Produce (David DeSanctis, in his debut role), who receives his nickname because he can recite the store code of every fruit and vegetable in the place. Oh, and he readily gives out hugs, even to people who don’t know they need them – like Calvin.

What does Calvin need? He thinks it’s another bottle of whiskey; or more nights out with his best friends Milt (William Zabka, of “Hot Tub Time Machine”), a car salesman, and Frank (Alan Powell, of “The Song”), an aspiring-but-struggling musician; or maybe respect from Katie, who lets her boyfriend sneak into her bedroom when her dad is on another bender. All of them have their own problems, too: Milt’s sales aren’t doing well, but when Frank gets evicted, Milt lets him move in only to almost immediately worry that his wife prefers his best friend to him. Katie does well in school and thinks she loves her pushy boyfriend Colt (Michael Grant), but the way he bosses her around and doesn’t understand her sexual boundaries doesn’t bode well. Can Calvin be a good friend and a good father when he can’t even deal with his own issues, let alone anyone else’s?

“Where Hope Grows” is clear about its Christian themes from the onset (songs playing in the background of various scenes reference Jesus and concepts like selflessness and charity), but that doesn’t mean they’re irritatingly dominant. Instead, the film incorporates them in organically (when Produce is beat up by Colt, his Bible falls out of his bike basket, drawing Katie’s interest; when Calvin decides to get his act together, he investigates Alcoholics Anonymous, the 12 steps of which incorporate the religion), and so the movie overall feels far more open-minded than other recent faith-based fare like “Left Behind.”

The subplots about bullying and young relationships will hold teenagers’ interest (although the suggestion of sexual assault might be too much for younger viewers), and DeSanctis especially offers up good humor and charm in his role as Produce. It would be nice if the character was ever given a real name, but for the most part the film pays as much attention to him as it does everyone else. There is certainly melodrama here (like how everyone in town seems to know Produce and his entire lifestory except for Calvin and Katie), but that’s an accessory to an otherwise believably presented film.

One of the first things Produce says to Calvin, and it seems trite at the time, is “Maybe you just need to smile.” But the advice has impact throughout “Where Hope Grows,” and the film’s messages about positivity and faith will resonate with family audiences, too.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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