Simon Birch is a 1998 American comedy-drama film loosely based on A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and directed and written for the screen by Mark Steven Johnson in his directorial debut. The film stars Ian Michael Smith, Joseph Mazzello, Jim Carrey, Ashley Judd and Oliver Platt. It omitted much of the latter half of the novel and altered the ending.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mark Steven Johnson|
|Produced by||Roger Birnbaum|
|Screenplay by||Mark Steven Johnson|
|Based on||A Prayer for Owen Meany|
by John Irving
|Music by||Marc Shaiman|
|Cinematography||Aaron E. Schneider|
|Edited by||David Finfer|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures|
|Box office||$18.3 million|
The film does not share the book's title at Irving's request; he did not believe that his novel could successfully be made into a film. The name "Simon Birch" was suggested by him to replace that of Owen Meany. The opening credits of the film state that it was "suggested by" Irving's novel. The main plot centers on 12-year-old Joe Wenteworth and his best friend Simon Birch, who was born with dwarfism.
Simon Birch believes that God made him for a special, heroic purpose. Simon and his best friend, Joe Wenteworth, are both outcasts in their tiny New England town. Joe is the illegitimate son of the town beauty, and Simon, at age 12, is so small that he still plays the infant Jesus in the church Christmas pageant.
In the summer of 1964, their friendship is put to the test when, during a Little League game, Simon hits a foul ball that strikes and kills Joe's mother. Together, they try to find out who Joe's father is. Just as they succeed, the time comes for Simon to fulfill the destiny he believes in. A situation arises that demands a hero—a very small hero.
While Simon and Joe are riding a school bus, the bus crashes into a lake. The two boys get everyone out of the bus, but Simon nearly drowns. While the two friends are in the hospital, Joe visits Simon, who later dies due to the injuries he sustained during the bus rescue. Joe remarks that he will always remember Simon for the hero that he was.
- Ian Michael Smith as Simon Birch: This was Smith's first role in film, and he has not done film acting since. He was chosen because of his small height, due to Morquio syndrome. His role in this film was suggested by a hospital worker in Chicago. After his parents read through the novel (A Prayer for Owen Meany) they agreed to let him work on the film.
- Joseph Mazzello as Joe Wenteworth
- Jim Carrey as Adult Joe Wenteworth / Narrator
- Ashley Judd as Rebecca Wenteworth; Sandra Bullock was originally cast for the role Ashley Judd was given.
- Oliver Platt as Ben Goodrich
- David Strathairn as Reverend Russell
- Dana Ivey as Grandmother Wenteworth
- Beatrice Winde as Hilde Grove
- Jan Hooks as Miss Agnes Leavey
- Cecilley Carroll as Marjorie
- Sumela-Rose Keramidopulos as Ann
- Sam Morton as Stuart
- John Mazzello as Simon Wenteworth
- Holly Dennison as Mrs. Birch
- Peter MacNeill as Mr. Birch
- Thomas J. Burns as Simon Birch Stunt Double
The bus crash scene was filmed near Ontario's French River. The film's quarry scenes were shot at Elora, Ontario. The church featured in many parts of the film is in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Its black borders were painted white for the film. At the end of the film when it switches to the future, the borders are black. The baseball scene as well as many indoor scenes were filmed in Glen Williams, Ontario.
Simon Birch features R&B songs from the 1950 and 1960s, as well as four score cues by Marc Shaiman. The film's original motion picture soundtrack was released on compact disc, LP and audio cassette on September 1, 1998 through Sony Wonder, Hollywood Records and Epic Records featuring the following songs:
- "You Were There" – Babyface
- "Bread and Butter" – The Newbeats
- "A Walkin' Miracle" – The Essex
- "Mickey's Monkey" – Smokey Robinson / The Miracles
- "Can I Get a Witness" – Marvin Gaye
- "Fever" – Peggy Lee
- "Up on the Roof" – The Drifters
- "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag (Part 1)" – James Brown
- "The Nitty Gritty" – Shirley Ellis
- "Nowhere to Run" – Martha and the Vandellas
- "It's All Right" – The Impressions
- "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" – Jackie Wilson
- "Simon's Theme" – Marc Shaiman
- "Friends Forever" – Marc Shaiman
- "Simon's Birth" – Marc Shaiman
- "Life Goes On" – Marc Shaiman
Simon Birch holds a 44% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the site's consensus calling the film "Overly mushy; tries too hard to pull at the heart-strings." On Metacritic, the film has a 39/100 rating, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews." Movie critic Gene Siskel rated it the 7th best movie of 1998.
The film opened at #5 at the North American box office making $3,321,370 in its opening weekend, in fifth place. The film would go on to gross $18,253,415 domestically, against a $20 million budget, resulting as a box office bomb.
- "SIMON BIRCH (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. 1998-10-06. Retrieved 2012-12-20.
- "Simon Birch (1998) - Financial Information". The-numbers.com. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
- Holden, Stephen (September 11, 1998). "FILM REVIEW; Tiny Boy With an Enormously Consuming Quest". The New York Times.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-05. Retrieved 2017-03-03.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- "John Irving's personal thoughts on Simon Birch". Aintitcool.com. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
- Simon Birch at Rotten Tomatoes
- Simon Birch at Metacritic
- Siskel, Gene (20 December 1998). "The Best Movies of 1998". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 5 March 2019.
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