Finding Forrester (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The Robbins Recipe: Good Will Dribbling.

The movie has some good moments because Sean Connery, Robert Brown and Anna Paquin deliver them, and director Gus Van Sant knows how to let them happen with some emotional zing, but you will be disappointed by the complete predictability of the script.

My one sentence summary: a pretty good movie that should have been a great one with a little more effort.

It is the story of the friendship formed between a reclusive writer like J.D. Salinger, and a young literary prodigy. Both live in the Bronx, although the old fella hasn't left his apartment in decades. He's an old white Scotsman who quit writing after one brilliant book, and the younger guy is a black high school kid. Their unlikely bond is formed because of their common love for literature and writing. 


All of that was a good premise, and they had the right cast to deliver it, but after about 10 minutes you will have every detail worked out. You will realize that:
  • the kid will enter a certain essay in his writing contest, even though he promised Sean Connery not to use anything written in the apartment
  • this will somehow get him in trouble from which only Connery can extricate him
  • after the school thinks he's in trouble, they will decide to keep him on anyway, because they need him for the basketball team
  • but he will deliberately screw up his basketball career because the school's lack of integrity offends him (he loses one for the Gipper)
  • in order to save the kid's butt, Connery will have to leave the house for the first time in years
  • this will ultimately draw Connery out of his miserable existence
  • when Connery buys the farm, he will insist that the kid write the preface to his posthumous novel, his first published output in nearly half a century

Contrived, much?

Another weak plot device was the fact that the young genius had his Salieri, just as Mozart did. And it's the same guy! That's right. F. Murray Abraham played exactly the same role as in Amadeus, except this time instead of being a mediocre composer jealous of a brilliant musician who seemed like a twit and an upstart, this time he's a mediocre writer jealous of a brilliant author who seems like a jock and an upstart. They should have simply called him Salieri and been done with it. They might have salvaged this if they had allowed F a multi-dimensional characterization, but they forced the character to become a fool and a tyrant, insisting on his way long after even the most stubborn man, and a far less intelligent man than F was reputed to be, would have admitted his mistakes. 

As in Van Sant's Good Will Hunting, the movie is bogus. The filmmakers have no idea what is really possible in the world of scholarship. No 16 year old, no matter how smart, no matter if his IQ was the highest in history, could be sufficiently familiar with every great work of literature ever written and also have worked hard enough at his court skills to have become an all-State basketball player. There just isn't that much time in a 16 year old's life. He could possibly be that good at writing, I suppose, because there is a natural talent factor involved which is mostly genetic, although I can't name anyone in history who was as good at 16 as this kid was supposed to be. But he could not have read that much. It's simply a factor of an equation in which time is a limited variable. Sigh. This is always a problem when dumb guys make movies about smart guys. Some day I hope a smart person will write the script about his/her own experiences. Failing that, the filmmaker will at least study some actual smart people. Or at least talk to a couple. 

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • Making-of featurette

  • minor features and some weak deleted scenes

It was also troublesome that he was a literary genius this time instead of a math whiz, and they elected to show the words that were supposed to be so good. They were not good. Sadly, they were downright dreadful.

On the other hand, F's character and the plot and the realism aren't really all that important. It's really about a passion for learning and literature, and the love of both which transcends race and nationality. Literature is really about trying to understand the human heart, and not about precise sentences, facts, and allusions. We can still relate to the heartfelt and witty Shakespeare after 400 years, but we almost forgot the brilliant Ezra Pound in his own century. 

The entire movie is contrived and orchestrated, and it's pretty much the same movie as Good Will Hunting, but that doesn't keep it from some moments to remember. I liked the main performances. (Even F did a good job with what he had. After all, he didn't write the lines). I was also very impressed with the eclectic multicultural musical score. 

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a half stars. Maltin 2.5/4, Apollo 68, Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3/4, 

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 74% positive overall, 79% from the top critics.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters like it MUCH more than the critics, scoring it a classic-level 7.8. Apollo users agree at 79/100. 
  • With their dollars ... it took in $51 million domestic on a $43 million budget. It maxed out at 2000 screens. 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B- because it has a good heart and broad appeal. It could have been an A if it had a good brain to match.

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