In ‘Saint Ralph,’ the miracle is believing
For Ralph Walker, as it is with all of us here, miracles come in an assortment of sizes.Not getting picked on by the more aggressive kids at St. Magnuson’s, the Catholic school in the industrial Canadian city where he lives, would rank as a nice little miracle for 14-year-old Ralph (Adam Butcher). Having Claire (Tamara Hope) pay him a little bit of kind attention would be another small miracle; getting a kiss from the religious Claire would be a miracle of a somewhat higher magnitude. And freeing himself from the sin of what he and his fellow Catholics refer to as “self-abuse” would be a miracle indeed.But the act that would rank as most miraculous for Ralph would be to see his mother (Shauna MacDonald) wake from the coma that seems to have taken hold for eternity. This is the miracle that Ralph, already fatherless, cares about most.Ralph, though far from the most devout and faithful – or even obedient and respectful – has, it turns out, experienced at least one miracle. Forced to take up cross-country running, as a means to cure him of his self-abusing tendencies, Ralph has had a heavenly revelation: If he wins the 1954 Boston Marathon, his mother will emerge from the darkness. Ralph has not, to date, had much belief in angels and the like, but to save his mother, he is game for anything. Besides, the revelation came from a prophet who looked suspiciously like Santa Claus.Like 1999’s wonderful “October Sky,” “Saint Ralph” strikes a sentimental, heartwarming chord of adolescent fortitude without slipping into sappiness. That it is predictable is practically a given. Ralph trains like hell. The film has its initial conclusion at the finish line in Boston. The denouement is a triumphant one, whether Ralph wins or loses, whether his mother opens her eyes or not. St. Magnuson’s features both the stern, dogmatic headmaster (Gordon Pinsent) on one side and the younger priest (Campbell Scott) questioning his own beliefs in opposition. Writer/director Michael McGowan has breathed something better, in this case, than plot twists or unusual characters into “Saint Ralph.” For one thing, the film sports a cheeky sense of humor. When one priest spots Ralph giving himself an inappropriate moment of pleasure while climbing a rope in gym class, he admonishes, “Make some room there for the Holy Ghost.” Beyond the laughs, Ralph Walker instructs us that simply believing that miracles are possible, and living our lives accordingly, is miracle enough in this difficult life. Making that point with intelligence and wit is a small order of miracle, but one deserving a visit to the cinema.”Saint Ralph” shows tonight through Friday at the Wheeler Opera House.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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