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The Deacon's Bench

While so much of the Catholic press has been cooing over the new movie “Bella” — produced by a devout Catholic (and co-producer of Mel Gibson’s “Passion”) and carrying an explicit pro-life message — not everyone has been enraptured. Some film critics have been decidedly cool to it. And now a respected Catholic screenwriter and teacher has stepped forward to say, in effect: “Sorry, folks. It’s just not that good”:

I have been getting loads of email asking (and sometimes demanding!) my opinion of the indie project Bella that opens (frantically) this weekend in several cities. I have thus refrained from making an official comment about the project because it seemed to me there was no upside. There has been an aggressive and, frankly, stupefying marketing blitz in the Catholic, pro-life universe for the film, and the folks behind the film have recruited an impressive number of good-willed, Catholic and pro-life notables to give the film a thumbs-up. I can’t figure out where the momentum is coming from – as the film itself is not that good – except that everybody in Christendom is eager to support something in the culture instead of always saying “Bleck.” (Which Christians really wouldn’t have to always be saying if we paid attention better to the good work that is out there to be seen…but that’s another post.)

So, we have ourselves a real-live, mind-numbing bandwagon going here to get behind Bella if you love Jesus and care about the babies! I have been contacted three separate times in the last two months trying to get me to say something in support of the film, and my response was, “Why do you need me? You have nearly the entire orthodox Catholic world telling you it’s the greatest Catholic, pro-life film ever made?” A producer on the film subsequently left a message on my voicemail noting that my refusal to support the film had its source “in the demonic.” Really? “Demonic”? It couldn’t just be that I found the film plodding, easy, sloppy and uneven? In short, I don’t think Bella is great. It’s not really “Catholic” (in the sense of overt spirituality). And it really isn’t pro-life (in the usual sense of that term).

What is going on is a wildly over the top marketing blitz in which the investors in Bella are trying desperately to recoup their investment, by telling good Catholic people that they must support this film to send a message to Hollywood. As with so many other mediocre Christian movies, the only “message” that Hollywood will get if Bella does well, is that the Christian audience has no idea what a good movie is and will rave about anything that remotely mirrors our world-view. And the really sad thing is, that message isn’t true. Most Christian people, like the rest of the world, do know a good story when they see one. So many, possibly most of the folks who are going to dutifully show up to support Bella this weekend are going to be disappointed or annoyed, or generally confused at what it is they are missing that everybody else is raving about. Trust your gut, audience of “The Passion,” you’re not missing something. There’s just not much in Bella to miss.

You’ll want to read what else she has to say.

I have to say, I became leery of these kinds of movies after I saw “Entertaining Angels” — egged on to see it by plaudits from both the pulpit and the Catholic press. It was a noble attempt at telling a worthy story, the life of Dorothy Day, and it even threw in Martin Sheen, just for fun. But it was really, truly, mediocre. If that’s the best Catholic film makers can do, no wonder so few of their movies get made.

I haven’t seen “Bella” yet, but I plan to. I hope it’s better than Barbara Nicolosi says. But I’ve learned to lower my expectations. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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