MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Friday, August 7th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Megan Basham.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: A 2009 Christian movie that’s now available to rent on Amazon Prime.
And Megan, you say this one is worth revisiting?
BASHAM: It is! Though in many ways it doesn’t quite feel accurate to call Like Dandelion Dust a Christian movie.
It is based on a novel by Karen Kingsbury. She’s the prolific author Time dubbed the “queen of Christian Fiction.” And it was produced by Kevin Downes, a name that appears on a number of big Christian movies, including I Can Only Imagine. The plot even includes the obligatory invite to church.
But that’s there where genre-convention ends.
There are no altar-call moments. And the two Christian characters not only don’t solve the protagonists’ problems, they compound them. A fairly realistic twist.
CLIP: No, Bill. No, it’s wrong, and you know it’s wrong. If God wanted them to have Joey He would have…Beth, stop it. Stop it. You don’t get to decide what God’s will is. Do you want Joey to be beaten, maybe killed by this man? The courts are wrong, Beth. What other option do they have at this point?
As for that church invite, the main characters accept, but not for the reasons viewers might expect. In short, Dandelion Dust represents real progress in a genre that is too often marked by tin-eared, ham-handed filmmaking.
To start with, we see why it is worth investing in and casting the best actors available. Barry Pepper, known for Saving Private Ryan and Flags of our Fathers plays Rip. He’s an abusive alcoholic who is released from prison to discover that his wife placed their son for adoption six years earlier.
Pepper brings a level of compassion rarely developed in such roles. From his mumbling, bleary-eyed arrest to his determination to build his family out of another’s broken pieces, Pepper never strikes a false note. He shows us a man who is weak, troubled, and selfish, but not soulless.
CLIP: You’re going to tell me that you didn’t know about the pregnancy or the adoption? No sir, not until a couple weeks ago. And now you want to be a father? Yes, sir. Before I was incarcerated I was a very different man. Certainly not fit to be a husband or a father and my alcoholism is a progressive illness and the healing is lifelong. I’ve spent the last seven years rehabilitating. And the one thing I’ve held on to, sir, is my hope. My hope for a family to repair the damage that I’ve done and my desire to be a father.
As Jack Campbell, the adoptive father desperate to hold on to his son, Cole Hauser also cultivates a character that is more complex than he probably appeared on paper. Plenty of movie mothers have wrenched the hearts of women over the years. Hauser’s portrayal of a man trying to live up to the masculine ideal of family protector in a situation beyond his control will resonate with fathers.
CLIP: What do we do? I don’t know, I don’t know. You don’t know? That’s it? You try to buy him off, it doesn’t work, and now you’re done? What else do you want me to do? You tell me, what else should I do Molly? I don’t know—something, anything. You’re his father, you don’t just give up. I’m not giving up. I’ve done everything. I don’t care what it takes. I’m not giving up my son. You’re something, you know. I’m not giving up my son. Look at my face. Look at me. What a horrible father I am.
As the birth and adoptive mothers, Oscar winner Mira Sorvino and Tony nominee Kate Levering are miles beyond what audiences have come to expect from Christian productions.
However, most of the credit should probably go to director Jon Dunn. He takes a story that could have easily become a Lifetime movie-of-the-week with a redemptive theme tacked on and handles it with sensitivity and nuance. He takes his time, trusting the viewer to understand his characters without drawing them in big, clichéd gestures and to connect with them despite their flaws.
CLIP: You’re home early. Yeah they sent me home. I can’t concentrate and I can’t eat and I can’t sleep and I don’t understand why you haven’t called the police.
One particular scene stands out as an example of Dunn’s restraint. When a court order forces Jack to turn his son over to a social worker who will then take the boy to his birth parents, Dunn doesn’t show Jack falling on his son’s neck in sobs. Instead, we see him sitting silently, stroking the boy’s bare feet, trying to control his emotions. It is a small moment, all the more effective for its stillness.
CLIP: Are you my real dad? Well, let me ask you. What do you think? I think you are. Why? You take care of me and you taught me how to play baseball. And I changed your diapers too. That was gross. What else? What else do I do, son? You love me. Yeah. And that’s the most important thing a father can do.
This isn’t to say the movie is perfect. One tension-filled plot point is introduced so late there’s a rush to bring it to a conclusion. And even Dunn can’t resist getting a little overly sentimental toward the end. But this is easy to forgive in view of the whole. Between Hallmark and reality, Like Dandelion Dust almost always manages to convey reality.