"Saint Ralph": A gentle story of faith and friendship
Special to The Seattle Times
If you have a low tolerance for inspirational sports movies, you might want to remove half a star (or more) from that three-star rating. Still, even when it's pushing the limits of shameless manipulation, this cheeky Canadian film has charm and wit.
Ralph, the 14-year-old hero, is a rambunctious kid, played with a daring mixture of brattiness and precocity by newcomer Adam Butcher. He's attending a Catholic school in the mid-1950s when an athletic priest (Campbell Scott) defies his superior (Gordon Pinsent) by helping Ralph prepare to run in the Boston marathon.
In Ralph's mind, quite a bit more than a race is at stake. His father died in World War II; his mother is in a coma, she's not expected to recover; and he's barely surviving alone in their home. He believes he can awaken her with the "miracle" of winning the race, and, of course, he's spirited enough to inspire others to believe that he actually has a chance.
A rare comedy about faith, "Saint Ralph" succeeds mostly by not taking itself too seriously. Mischievous chapter headings toy with the identities of patron saints. Teenagers discuss ways to skip purgatory, while Ralph, who takes the logic of self-mortification a little too far, finds religious inspiration in a book called "Canadian Martyrs."
For a girlfriend, the hormone-driven Ralph chooses an unusually self-possessed student (Tamara Hope) who informs him that she's committed to becoming a nun. Scott's doubting character is full of wisdom like "a trip to the moon is possible but it's never going to happen."
Ralph's visions of Santa Claus belong in another, sillier movie, while the finale, which makes unfortunate use of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" on the soundtrack, is way over the top.
But the actors, including Jennifer Tilly as a helpful nurse and Michael Kanev as Ralph's best friend, consistently smooth over the rough edges. And writer-director Michael McGowan, a 1985 Detroit marathon winner, overcomes the shoestring budget and gives the film a strong sense of time and place.
John Hartl: firstname.lastname@example.org
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