Magazine article The Christian Century

Dime-Store Redemption

Magazine article The Christian Century

Dime-Store Redemption

Article excerpt

DENZEL WASHINGTON makes his directorial debut in Antwone Fisher and also plays a navy psychiatrist who becomes emotionally involved in the struggles of a young patient. Antwone (Derek Luke) lands in Dr. Davenport's office because he can't stop getting into fights. Eventually Davenport gets the complete story--the boy never knew his parents (an incarcerated mother, a murdered dad); he was raised by a minister's wife, who beat him, and her daughter, who sexually abused him; he saw his best friend plugged in a robbery. Everything but the bloodhounds snappin' at his rear end, as Thelma Ritter quips about Anne Baxter's tale of woe in All About Eve.

Davenport's love and support make the young man whole again, of course. He locates his birth mother and is welcomed into the bosom of his father's big family. He consummates his first romance, with a navy girl (Joy Bryant). And because true love is reciprocal, his affection loosens up Davenport, who has been alienated from his wife (Salli Richardson) ever since they learned they couldn't have kids, and cures their marital problems.

The ace up the picture's sleeve is that it was written by the actual Antwone Fisher. So the movie has it both ways: it's genuine stuff (the tale of a true-life lost child who found his way) and it's an actualized American dream (he found his way to a Hollywood contract).

Well, this child has Hollywood in his veins. The warm, sweet smell that comes off the screen in Antwone Fisher is manure, and it wafts high above the "real-folks" ad campaign, which quotes psychologists and community leaders endorsing the movie's values. The film's afterword--following the hearts-and-flowers dedication to Fisher's father, "whom I never had the pleasure and the honor to know"--is a disclaimer to the effect that the script was inspired by Fisher's life and some of the characters and events are fictional.

I'll say. The film is a composite of sure-fire melodramatic effects, like the scene in which Antwone drops by his old foster home (where the abusive daughter still lives with the sadistic mom) to announce that he's "still standing and still strong," and the one where his newly discovered family gathers and prepares (at roughly an hour's notice) a feast that replicates the one in his dreams--the groaning board that he never got to experience as a child.

Cute episodes are also salted in, detailing Antwone's courtship of Cheryl, with glimpses of Davenport smiling his paternal approval. Davenport preps him for his first date with a role-playing session; when the boy earns his first kiss, he's so buoyant he swings by the shrink's home to share the moment. …

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