Starring Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, Natascha McElhone, Xavier Samuel
I can’t remember a time that I have enjoyed Oscar nominee Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls) on screen this much. Mr. Church is an unconventional story, not about the family you are born with, but the family you choose (or often the one that chooses you). It’s a bittersweet drama that maintains a bit of mystery and curiosity throughout the story. Murphy’s performance is the heartbeat of the film directed by Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy). Mr. Church reminded me of a similar film, Corina, Corina starring Whoopi Goldberg, that was an absolute delight back in the early 90’s. While dealing with heartbreaking subject matter, this film doesn’t dwell on the sadness, it stays positive and moving forward.
9-year-old Charlotte’s mother is dying. She was only given six months to live, and in 1971 a black man named Mr. Church (Murphy) showed up at their house to make breakfast. Marie (McElhone) had Charlotte out of wedlock, with a man who in his will, offered Mr. Church the job of cooking until Marie passed. He would become part of their little family, only Marie turned into a miracle. Six years later, Charlotte (Robertson) almost done with high school, still eating elaborate meals prepared by Mr. Church and caring for her deteriorating mother. Charlotte always wonders where Mr. Church goes, and what he does when he is not working for them, but he insists what he does on his off time is his business.
Murphy’s performance is the heartbeat of the film.
“Food you didn’t know you wanted until after you tasted…” a young Charlotte says, reluctantly giving into the cooking style of Mr. Church. I felt the same way she did about Eddie Murphy in the most dramatic role of his career. Who knew we wanted more serious Murphy, but he is an absolute delight in this role that relies on an inner performance. Filled with poise, it’s the quietest I’ve ever seen Murphy who has a big personality, filling every crevasse of the film. As you might expect, since this does star Robertson (The Longest Ride, Mothers Day), the young queen of over-dramatization, Mr. Church also has moments that cross the line into schmaltzy territory. It's the honest, unintentional moments that will get the viewer.
As the film spans years, Charlotte and Mr. Church become close, as he watches her face life’s big moments alone. The story is told from the perspective of the young girl, as she faces life’s every changing circumstances. The audience might have more questions about elements the script would rather not explore, but I think that’s part of its charm, we don’t need to know everything. For the most part Mr. Church is a genuine film where race, color, sexuality and creed are oblivious. The appeal of the film can and should reach a wide audience with themes of family, love, life lessons and loss.
Career altering performance from Murphy who anchors the film.