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Children on Their Birthdays
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by EricDSnider

"Genteel to the point of tedium."
2 stars

The actors in "Children on Their Birthdays" seem to have been given one instruction: Be genteel.

And so every genteel bit of dialogue from Douglas Sloan's genteel script (based on Truman Capote's genteel short story) is pronounced with massive, saccharine Southern gentility. I do not doubt that people in a small Alabama town just after World War II spoke like this; what I doubt is whether gentility is, in itself, enough to base a movie on.

Yet here is "Children on Their Birthdays," a slice-of-life picture where the life is uneventful and the slice missed all the good chunks. It has several tiny bits that could have been turned into good films, but each of them is abandoned so that half-hearted attention can be paid to some other bit, which in turn is abandoned for something else, and so on.

In the idyllic post-war town of Medda, Ala., we meet Billy Bob Murphy (Joe Pichler), who is just turning 13 and who spends his summer days hanging out with his Huck Finn-ish friend Preacher (Jesse Plemons). The boys do what you'd expect: They listen to baseball games on the radio, run through fields, hatch schemes in a treehouse, and avoid doing any serious work. Billy Bob's mother (Sheryl Lee) seems to have lost her husband in the war, and there seems to have been, at one point, a romantic connection between her and Speedy Thorne (Christopher McDonald), now the town's auto mechanic and sheriff.

Everyone's world gets jumbled a bit when a 13-year-old girl named Lilly Jane Bobbitt (Tania Raymonde) moves into the boarding house across the street with her mute mother (Phyllis Frelich). She's like a miniature Scarlett O'Hara, Lilly Jane is, complete with a parasol and a manner of speaking that is unfailingly polite and verbose. Billy Bob and Preacher are both taken with her -- Billy Bob in his well-bred, mannerly way, and Preacher in his grunting, throw-rocks-at-girls fashion.

What happens beyond that is of little import. There's a tiny conflict within the town (thanks to an outsider played by Tom Arnold), a tiny resolution of that conflict, and a tiny denouement. What little crises do emerge over the course of the story are handled speedily and effortlessly, as if the movie thought it would be impolite to let conflicts intrude upon the plot.

I would like to mention that the town holds a talent show at which Lilly Jane sings (well, lip-synchs) a song that sounds like an '80s pop-inspirational ballad, a la "The Greatest Love of All." Lilly Jane claims to have written this song herself, which means she was truly ahead of her time, back there in the late '40s in Alabama.

First-time director Mark Medoff seems to have had little idea what point, if any, he was trying to make. Creating a snapshot of American life from yesteryear may be a worthwhile goal, but it will require far better acting than he gets from any of his subjects here. Oh, the boys are good enough, and I suppose Sheryl Lee and Christopher McDonald don't hurt anything. But Tom Arnold -- Tom Arnold, for crying out loud! -- is embarrassing. And Tania Raymonde as Lilly Jane Bobbitt demonstrates why you should ask potential actors whether they can do the accent BEFORE casting them, not after. It is hideous and funny, the way she speaks; the fact that she speaks SO MUCH pushes it over the line into the realm of irritation. This young actress is good -- she played Malcolm's girlfriend on "Malcolm in the Middle" a couple times -- but this was not the role for her.

Nor is this the movie for us. Its old-fashioned values and family-appropriate content are admirable, but sitting through a movie shouldn't be a chore, and "Children on Their Birthdays" feels like 102 minutes of taking out the garbage.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=6079&reviewer=247
originally posted: 07/01/03 02:02:50
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/17/17 Ronald LeRoy old fasthion but deliteful 5 stars
7/25/09 rose I loved this movie and Tania; have been waiting for it to come on tv again to rewatch it. 5 stars
10/20/04 Salee This was much less than average, and the lead actress is extremely over-rated 1 stars
9/15/04 Aline This movie made me vomit. And so did the stuck-up brat in the movie(the lead girl) 1 stars
9/13/04 Creme Horrible movie, horrible stinking lead actress. This movie shouldn't have been created 1 stars
8/30/04 Wendell Belieu Excellent writing, excellent acting, very entertaining. Better than many academy award mov 5 stars
8/18/04 Johnny A joy to watch. A slice of life in the 40's. Neat crisp, clean, all loose ends wrapped up! 5 stars
7/28/04 Slivers It was boring, and too unrealistic 1 stars
6/23/04 R.T. Movie isn't worth watching. Plus according to my sources, Tania Raymonde is a bad person 1 stars
6/21/04 Passerby This movie was a stinker and Tania Raymonde is junk 1 stars
6/21/04 Passerby This movie was a stinker and the main actress was junk 1 stars
6/06/04 Jef wasnt to bad 3 stars
4/29/04 Dale Greer thought it was delightful, and I thoght Tania Raymonde was wonderful-going to be big star 4 stars
4/19/04 A reviewer This movie was junk 1 stars
2/28/04 US Medicore acting of the main actress of this film helped make this film dull. 2 stars
2/28/04 Super Lily Jane Bobbit sucks. She's the worst movie character ever! She's also a big show-off! 1 stars
2/15/04 A Movie watcher This film was centered around an egocentric, very pretentious young insect called Lily. 1 stars
2/12/04 Dusky This movie was corny and the lead girl(Lily Bobbit) of this movie was cocky and a pest. 2 stars
2/11/04 M.V.D. This movie wasn't bad but it wasn't too pleasing either. And Tania Raymonde is an eyesore. 3 stars
1/12/04 Yallors Excuse the Tania Raymonde comments. The person making them is mentally ill. 4 stars
1/04/04 Nell Great, great movie! 5 stars
12/24/03 disgusted Tania Raymonde looks masculine and looks more fit to play a role of a tomboy instead. 2 stars
12/24/03 anonymous It looked very awkward when Tania Raymonde was lip syncing to the song in the movie! 3 stars
12/24/03 anonymous Tania Raymonde isn't that good at acting. Her acting skills are nothing special. 3 stars
12/24/03 anonymous I agree, Tania Raymone was not fit for the role of Lily Jane Bobbit. 3 stars
11/05/03 mary great to watch with kids 4 stars
8/05/03 Caliope Archon Good children's film and great music 4 stars
10/20/02 jeremy sanders likely to become a classic. Great adaptation of a Truman Capote short story. 4 stars
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  18-Oct-2002 (PG)



Directed by
  Mark Medoff

Written by
  Douglas Sloan

  Tania Raymonde
  Joe Pichler
  Jesse Plemons
  Sheryl Lee
  Tom Arnold
  Christopher McDonald

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