My Favorite Movies – The Mighty (1998)

17 Jun

By Tanner Smith

The Mighty is a film that just gets better and better each time I see it…and I would add “which is more than I can say for “Simon Birch,” though that’s really not fair.

Both “The Mighty” and “Simon Birch” were family films that came out in 1998, and people seemed to argue about which one is better. But why? They only have one similarity: a friendship between two adolescent outcasts with disabilities that they see as for a heroic reason (and even that’s handled differently in both films).

I watched both these movies a lot when I was a kid. “Simon Birch” had enough innocuous charm and likable characters for me to continue watching it, while “The Mighty” felt more natural and in a realistic setting (at least, when it doesn’t show the characters’ fantasies of King Arthur’s knights, but there’s a purpose for that). I’ve watched both movies again as an adult, and…honestly, the stuff that moved me in “Simon Birch” really irritated me now. It also follows an annoying trend I’ve seen in a lot of family movies (I also mention this in my review of The Journey of Natty Gann): everyone in the supporting cast must be a one-dimensional jerk so that we can feel more sympathy for the main characters (however, there were two exceptions–Ashley Judd’s brief role as the mother one of the boys, and Oliver Platt as Judd’s boyfriend who’s a genuinely nice guy). And, I’m sorry to say this, even Simon, the title character, grew kind of annoying. While I don’t hate it, as it does have its worthwhile moments, it’s just a reminder to me that it is possible to outgrow some of the films we watch repeatedly as children.

“The Mighty,” on the other hand, I didn’t watch as much as “Simon Birch” back in the day. I think it was because it was a little too real for me. I mentioned in my review of The Secret of Roan Inish that there are two kinds of family films, one better than the other that most kids won’t want to check out but then will notice how much it grew on them since they watched it. “The Mighty” is a film like that. While it has its lighthearted moments (which are needed to balance out the heavier moments), this film is a little tougher in its issues (not so tough to gain an R rating, of course) and more poignant than one might expect. I can see real people in these characters, and they’re acted wonderfully (especially Kieran Culkin and Sharon Stone); I can feel what they’re going through; I like the philosophies that are used to connect the King Arthur stories to real life; the film even has a way of using sarcasm to say things about the characters’ backgrounds (for example, Kevin tells Max, “My dad was a magician–he heard the words ‘birth defect’ and disappeared.”), which is a risky but refreshing move; the fantasy aspects are not overdone; and so on. In the review, I complained about an unneeded climax involving the late James Gandolfini as Max’s psychotic father who causes Max to ultimately stand up to him and fight his inner demons as well. But I don’t think I mind it so much anymore).

What don’t I enjoy about “The Mighty?” Well, maybe that very catchy theme song by Sting…eh, who am I kidding? I like that too.

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