Review: Mr Church (2017) -Wrong Pieces, Right Jigsaw

Eddie Murphy in Mr Church

Before I get started I’d like to explain that due to some unforeseen family situations I have been unable to watch any films in the last 2 weeks or write about the ones I saw before things went awry. Unfortunately the only film I saw prior to everything being flipped on its head was Mr Church so I have understandably had a bitter taste in my mouth recently because I haven’t been able to wash it away with a film more palatable than this Eddie Murphy starrer.

Mr Church is the story of Charlotte Brooks (Britt Robertson), a young girl who develops a unique relationship with a man called Henry Joseph Church (Murphy). When Mr Church comes to her house to serve as her cook during the final years of her mothers (Natascha McElhone) life she enters into a friendship that changes both of their lives. A relationship that should only last six months spans decades.

Directed by Driving Miss Daisy’s Bruce Beresford and filled with a cast of talented performers, this should really be a slam dunk. The story is a compelling one with the script, despite some clunky dialogue in places rings true in the right ways. Not only does Robertson shine as Charlie but Murphy proves a refreshing choice for Church and he knows exactly how to work within the lines of his character while finding hidden depths.

Everything about the film seems to work. Sounds like the makings of something special right? Then why did I find myself feeling that this is aimless storytelling. There should be a point to all this and yet it never materialises despite hitting all the right notes along the way. Beresford never brings together everything that works into a full picture. Capturing the story isn’t the sole purpose of a director and it seems this point has eluded Beresford here. At no point does Mr Church’s story rise above melodrama because it’s played too straight.

The film feels like a roman road, a straight line to a set point, no room for manoeuvring within Beresford’s strict design. The occasional diversion feels pointless as it never really links into the main story. A side plot involving Charlie and her high school boyfriend is tacked on with little thought or meaning to add colour to the films final act. In fact Beresford seeks out ways to make his characters more interesting without ever really using them. Most of the drama revolves around other characters and how their moments of tragedy or triumph shape Henry and Charlie.

We as individuals do not structure our lives around the choices other people make and we certainly don’t read into these decisions as much as Beresford and writer Susan McMartin want us to believe. If anything we do the opposite, we care little for others decisions. This may be a rather cynical take on the people in our lives but it doesn’t mean they aren’t important to us, it’s just how we are structured.

In the end, Mr Church feels like a puzzle left unfinished, like Beresford has kept trying to put a square peg in a round hole, hoping it would fit and that people wouldn’t notice it doesn’t. While it’s all very colourful, interesting in its own right there are pieces missing that suck the soul out of this true story in a way it cannot recover from. While you may enjoy the little things here, its impossible to appreciate what is honestly a delightful story, one mishandled and underappreciated.


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