Mr. Church (2016)

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“There’s nothing like a really good story.”

Disliking a movie is not hard work. To merely dislike a story, an individual, or a thing suggests the sort of distanced and impersonal investment which can easily be shrugged off. It’s a nasty flavor of the hour, day, week. Erasing the bad taste and dislodging the dislike from your mind’s center can be done given enough effort. And that’s why it hurts my head to still be stuck in limbo reflecting on Mr. ChurchHating this picture – which I refuse to classify as a film – has taken its toll on me. It’s not necessarily poorly made or cheap to the eyes, but its story is a detriment to the empathetic heart and soul of quality moviegoing experiences. Mr. Church is both an abomination to dramatic cinema and a disreputable association for its withdrawn leading man’s scarcely seen talent.

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Henry Church (Eddie Murphy) – seldom called Henry, typically prefaced by the honorific label Mr. – is a renaissance man and a laureate. He’s a gardener, jazz pianist, bookworm, and most importantly to the story’s cast, a hired cook. Marie (Natascha McElhone) gave birth to Charlie (Britt Robertson) out of wedlock. This family is a surrogate one, the sort you’d imagine combining forces following a disaster, but as is true to the equally contrived and trite script, they congeal to serve as scar tissue. Marie’s prolonged cancer battle leaves her in desperate want. Charlie’s fatherless upbringing leaves her in an outstretched need. And to mend their problems is Mr. Church, a plumber of emotion and a layer of quicksand foundation.

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Six months cooking and caring for these women is Mr. Church’s agreement with Marie’s adulterer prior to his own passing. And yet he stays. We’re left to wonder why. Our guesses presume Henry’s childhood abuse stokes his need for family. We assume he was beaten, is a closeted homosexual, forced into an acceptable and failing marriage. Mr. Church looks at his problems through the bottom of a night’s bottle, but since he resides in such a cozy story, he defies his own clear alcoholism. He’ll drink the evening away at the Jazz club, come home a stumbling mess, ranting and raving against a ghostly father still tormenting his being. Then he wakes up clear of a hangover, not fogged or out of tune or catching the hair of the dog, a monumental presence in the kitchen whipping up an omelette or a quiche or maybe even french toast if you’re lucky. Men stink after a night out. I remember my father picking me up the morning following a Halloween party. My directions were awful, I felt like mud, he was anxious. “I smell like a brewery, don’t I?” The only answer I got was a nod and a rolled down window locked from his driver side. Mr. Church doesn’t exist in that sort of reality. It’s too afraid to turn up its nose and catch its own foul breeze.

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What makes Mr. Church so detestable and so debased is the cacophony screenplay. I found myself laughing, not in anger, nor out of frustration, but at its sheer incompetency. Not a damn second of this movie feels genuine or real or ever grounded in a world which exists within any corporeal realm rather than inside of a subjugated spirit. Bruce Beresford is best known for directing Driving Miss Daisy, a well-received film which has aged as well as whole milk, and continues to tell stories from the omnipotent black man’s perspective set in a racially defined servitude towards uninteresting white folks who are baffled by the intelligence and humanity of those a shade darker. Eddie Murphy is a touching, telling, thoroughly affecting dramatic actor who at age 55 still has more charisma and vivacity than those half his age. Murphy is good whereas this picture is not, a movie focused on sanctifying a deserving black culture while suggesting Henry will only live on through the dissonant daily routines off white patrons who ultimately took him for granted. Mr. Church quickly depreciates the value of its predictable plot by being so patronizing, mechanical, and altogether anesthetic. Movies can be far worse than this one, but rarely are they more insultingly and obviously atrocious.

“People act strange around death.”

Rating: 0 out of 5

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