Movie Review By Andrea Chase
There are many remarkable things about "Wide Awake," not the least of which is that this gentle comedy-drama about faith is anything but preachy. I know what you're thinking, but stay with me because this is a film that's sentimental without being saccharine and emotional without resorting to cheap melodrama. It never condescends to either its subject matter or its audience. It's even fun. Really.
In it, ten-year-old Joshua Beal goes on a metaphysical quest to come to terms with the death of his beloved grandfather, played in flashback by Robert Loggia. His search, which includes forays into traditions not generally compatible with his Catholic upbringing, deftly blends Josh's gung-ho sincerity and the supportive bemusement of his family, friends, and the clergy at his parochial school.
There could not have been better casting for Joshua than Joseph Cross. His is a curiously adult face for a child. He has a quietly thoughtful demeanor that gives Josh's philosophical bent authenticity. It's that bent that also makes Josh the worst kind of inadvertent troublemaker. Even after Josh's dad, played with unexpected warmth by Dennis Leary asks him to just agree with the nuns, he starts a near riot the first day of school by innocently nitpicking the finer points of salvation with baseball savvy sister Rosie O'Donnell.
Writer/director M. Night Shamalyan has an exquisite attention to detail that conveys the depth of Josh's grief not with his tears, but with the way he stops fidgeting when his grandfather is mentioned. He also nails the sadness, for both parent and child, of leaving childhood behind when Josh explains to teary mom Dana Delaney why toy stores aren't magical anymore.
A film about spiritual growth is hardly the typical fodder for popular entertainment, so Shyamalan has tempered it with smart humor and even a dash of romance. He's made Josh's journey of self-discovery and the changes it causes as important as what he ultimately finds, which is that the answer he's been looking for has been in front of him all along waiting patiently to be recognized.
Miramax has been screening different cuts of "Wide Awake" to reviewers since last fall. I get the feeling they don't know quite know what to do with this charmer. I can only pray that their marketing people will do right by it.
© 1998 - Andrea Chase - Air Date: 4/18/98
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