...shining light on the media, one review at a time
Intelligence is a highly coveted commodity. Intelligent people are the ones who become leaders, wield power, gain fortunes, and shape the world. On the other hand, modern young people who don’t always appreciate the value of a strong intellect give their admiration to those who are considered “cool,” physically attractive, or, at least, “normal.”
But what about those who are ranked “barely functional” on their IQ tests, who are decidedly abnormal in society’s eyes and far from physically attractive? Based on the Robert Whitlow novel, Jimmy shows that society’s misfits are sometimes the wisest of people—the special ones our world most needs.
A quiet, laidback town in Alabama seems like the right place for a boy like Jimmy. Considered “slow” by the townsfolk, the cognitively challenged teenager has a safe environment in which to grow and learn at his own pace, supported by friends in the community and his family.
Jimmy’s father is a busy criminal lawyer, a career which doesn’t allow him much time for his son, but the absence is compensated for by Jimmy’s loving stepmother, his grandfather, Jim, and a local police officer who is a distant relative. When Jimmy isn’t spending time with his grandfather, he washes cars at the police station, a volunteer job that he thoroughly enjoys.
While washing police car tires one day, Jimmy overhears a conversation that he has no idea will change his life. It seems the sweet old town is not impervious to corruption, and the boy who everyone thinks is too dumb to catch-on understands and remembers much more than anyone realized. If there’s one thing Jimmy is not, it’s a liar. He and the town are about to find out that speaking the truth can lead to trouble, even when it’s the right thing to do.
As Jimmy’s world starts to change and he is thrown into serious danger, he draws nearer to God for his strength. It turns out that Jimmy may not be the slow learner everyone thinks he is. Instead, he is the teacher they all desperately need.
Stories like Jimmy are always relevant. Perhaps, though, the tale could not be more needed than now, when abortion is considered a reasonable and supposedly ethical practice to be performed by doctors in hospitals when the unborn baby is going to have, or already has, a mental or physical “defect.” The termination of human babies is even recommended in many such cases.
In Jimmy however, clear evidence is given that such babies, if allowed to live, have incredible value that becomes increasingly obvious as they grow into special children, teens, and adults. Jimmy is not at all an abortion movie, nor is it argumentative in any way. Rather, telling Whitlow’s compelling story through the powerful medium of film allows this entertaining, touching, and even exciting picture to pack a powerful pro-life punch for those who are willing to see it.
Those from blended families will also be pleased by the movie’s portrayal of stepmothers. Long the villains of Hollywood, stepmothers get their day at last in the role of Jimmy’s stepmom, Ellen, who is more actively supportive and loving of Jimmy than his own father. She is the one Jimmy calls for when he is in trouble, the person he most needs, most loves, and for whom he is most thankful.
No, this isn’t some sadistic achievement by a brainwashing stepmother, as Hollywood might have it. Ellen has earned such devotion and adoration through her undying, motherly love and sacrifice for this special needs boy who is not her own by birth. Where many second wives might resent needing to care for a mentally challenged child, Ellen sees what Jimmy has to offer and knows she can learn from his view of life.
Jimmy also highlights mentorship and the role of grandparents, with Jim filling in where Jimmy’s father is absent. Jim and Jimmy share a special bond, thanks to Jim’s patience and the insight that allows him to see Jimmy’s potential better than anyone else.
As the central character, Jimmy is the carrier of several of the film’s positive messages. He demonstrates unconditional love better than most people could ever dream and shows unexpected wisdom in his simple approach to life. In addition, Jimmy possesses a faith in God and Jesus Christ that he is not afraid to share. Concerned about his grandfather’s lack of interest in church, Jimmy shows in a moving scene that he is concerned not with church attendance, but his grandfather’s salvation.
Courage is another of Jimmy’s memorable character traits, though he actually struggles with many fears. Through these phobias, Jimmy is able to illustrate the struggle to find courage in the face of fear throughout the film.
Any movie with a mentally challenged or disabled character has the peculiar challenge of finding an actor who can convincingly portray that type of disability. The difficulty in casting such an actor becomes even more of an obstacle when the character is a young teenager. With the weight of the picture on his shoulders, young Ian Colletti takes on the challenging role of Jimmy and turns out to be just what this film needs. While more consistent portrayals of similar roles have been done (see A Dog Named Christmas for one of the best), Colletti offers several moments of remarkable authenticity that punctuate an overall solid performance.
Colletti’s task was undoubtedly eased by the surrounding cast members, who are all gifted practitioners of the craft. Now known for his role as a detective in the popular TV series, Monk, Ted Levine here plays Jimmy’s grandfather, showing the dramatic acting chops that earned him admiration long before his stint in the comedic show. Kelly Carlson graces the role of Ellen with her beauty and emotional accessibility, while Patrick Fabian brings dimension to the less-developed character of Jimmy’s father.
The actors’ performances are assisted by excellent cinematography and all-around high production values. The camerawork is mostly straightforward with only a few moments of originality, but the lighting, is of particular note, as it supports the setting, moods, and progression of the film’s scenes.
The story itself is arguably the film’s greatest strength. As an adaptation of a well-written novel, the Jimmy screenplay has the advantage of being a tightened version of a thematically rich tale with built-in compelling characters and unique plot. The filmmakers are wise enough not to remove the meaning and depth that is at this story’s core. In addition, the film is free from offensive content, while offering many positives.
The movie does, however, depict some frightening situations that may be too scary for young children. (SPOILER WARNING: A frightened boy is shown being kidnapped and held hostage, and an attempted murder by drowning is also depicted.) Parents should use caution in deciding if their family can watch the film together.
For appropriate audiences, Jimmy is a thought-provoking blend of Christian drama, legal thriller, coming-of-age, and action. Thanks to a solid foundation, this unusual hodgepodge turns out to be a lot like its title character—special.
“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” – 1 Corinthians 1:21 (NIV)