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                        But The Greatest Of These Is Love (I Corinthians 13:13 )


            In all these movies, love is not always patient or kind (I Corinthians 13:4), but it does provide the moments of clarity.

            “Charlie Bartlett” (Anton Yelchin) is a clean-cut teenaged boy whose Mom (Hope Davis) is rich but Dad’s in prison for tax evasion.  He genuinely loves his spacey Mom, who seems to treat him with kid gloves, because his father’s gone, but he acts out his anger with enough misbehavior to get him kicked out of all the expensive private schools.  So he shows up at the local public school in tie and blazer, looking like a preppie, and very out of place.  At first, he is mostly ignored or picked on, but after a while, he realizes that many of his contemporaries are struggling as much as he is, and few have anybody who will really listen to them.  So he becomes a kind of father/confessor in the boys’ room, providing free psychiatric help to anyone who wants to come sit in the next stall and pour out their soul between classes.  (The former bully, now an ally, watches the door, so boys and girls can both benefit equally.)  “Charlie Bartlett” has some of the “joie de vivre” of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (yes, he even looks and acts a little like a young Matthew Broderick), but it also has some of the sharp edges of adolescent angst in “Little Miss Sunshine.”  Charlie takes up with the principal’s daughter (Kat Dennings), which creates yet another set of relational dynamics, but the delicate combination of anger and comedy holds together pretty well, even in the farcical persona of the beleaguered principal (Robert Downey, Jr.).  In the end, like many teenage movies, it’s about being true to yourself, but nobody ever said it was going to be easy to work through the layers of your own resistance and pretense. 

            In “Nancy Drew,” the main character (Emma Roberts) is a teenage detective, who also struggles with her resistance to being “normal” and the pretense of acting as if she is.  She, also, is ridiculously clean-cut, to the point of being a retro self-parody, but we’re also won over by her cuteness and genuineness, anyway.  This one is much more saccharin and much less edgy than “Charlie Bartlett,” but the sermon point is the same:  be true to yourself.  And everything else will come to you.

            In “Transformers,” what comes to the teenaged heroes is a set of robots from outer space that can transform themselves into other forms and shapes, and are also in the midst of an interplanetary war where earth is the latest battleground.  This one, too, is about relational loyalty, even when all around you seems to be imploding.  The main characters have their foibles, all right, but in the end it’s their very humanity that’s worth redeeming.  And is it possible for a robot to be a Christ-figure? (Mark 10:45 )

            In “Paris, Je T’Aime,” the love is not necessarily between young lovers, but also parents and children, siblings, grandparents, neighbors---practically every relational combination, and it’s all good.  That is, it’s in the giving of ourselves that we discover who we are.  But you never know when a propitious (“kairos”) moment will suddenly appear.  "Therefore you also must be ready." (Matthew 24:44)

            Preparing others to be ready is supposedly the goal of the marriage-counselor priest (Robin Williams) in “License To Wed,” but his methods are suspect:  he seems to enjoy getting fiancées to fight so they can sort out how much they mean to each other.  Robin Williams has never been so annoying; it’s downright painful to witness how intrusive and self-important this clergyman can be, and all along he deludes himself into thinking that it’s for their own good.  It’s supposed to be a comedy, but it’s about as funny as fingernails scraping on a blackboard.

            “Introducing The Dwights” is also painful in its relational dynamics, as a controlling Mom (Brenda Blethyn) refuses to let go of her teenaged son, or her failed marriage with his Dad, either.  She wants to receive love but cannot bring herself to give it, so is enormously threatened when her son's new girlfriend (Emma Booth) competes for his attention.  As a failed comedian, her attempts at humor barely conceal her inner rage, but she loves being the center of attention, and she keeps thinking if she could only get her big break…

            Just as a big break is what is needed so desperately in “Broken English,” where Nora (Parker Posey) is desperately looking for her "soul mate" to complete her, only to discover that when she works on herself first, the perfect guy suddenly appears.  Sure, it sounds like awful pop psychology, but there's something appealing about this low-key film where all the characters are…well, human.


Questions For Discussion:

1) What has most annoyed you about clergy you have met?

2) Have you ever found yourself jealous of in-laws because of their emotional connection with your family members?

3) Can an adult be emotionally complete without a significant other?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell , Texas