Give me that old time religion
Review: Prayers from Pelham
|Prayers sets its focus on Pelham.|
The trip from Louisiana to Virginia is over 2000 miles of swamp and bog, hills and mountains, farmland and small towns. There's a never-ending variety of folk and place. Among that variety weaves a shared sense of space and cultural history that binds the people and terrain. However, that's not the South that Hollywood usually offers us.
No, what we usually are served is either reheated Burt Reynolds or some overheated Steel Magnolias knock-off. Occasionally, looking for some respect (and an Oscar), Hollywood dips their toes in the waters of Tennessee Williams. The filmmakers are sure to swear that the resulting story is so true to life, so authentic, it's like they went native. Wait long enough and the wizened, world weary, scripture quoting black character or the wizened, tough, yet crazy-cause-they're-so-full-of-life character will sure enough appear to regurgitate folksy life affirming platitudes in that slow southern patois directors love so much.
So where does Prayers from Pelham, a narrative short written and produced here in Georgia, fall on the spectrum?
Well, it's a short about South Georgia that actually looks feels and sounds like it's about South Georgia. (Notice the emphasis on Georgia. When it comes to the film world, only Africa is lumped together in one huge heap more often than the South.) Pelham never laughs at the folks, it laughs with them. There's never a mean bone in this well-done short's body. Even an easy target, like a woman claiming to see the Virgin Mary, isn't offered as ridicule. The sweet natured charm of this short is genuine. Filmmakers Ruckus and Lane Skye, along with their director of photography Spencer Adams, as old folks say, don't embarrass the good family name.
At the center of Prayers is Aaron (Scott Poythress), a Pelham native, who's returned home to be greeted with the news that his Aunt Enid (Inia Jean Plumb) is dying. Immediately, Aaron reaches for the notepad that he's used as a crutch since his parent's deaths, years before. It's through endless lists and careful planning in his pad that Aaron believes he can deal with life's messier ordeals and even obtain the promotion he so desperately wants. But, not because it's some half-assed folksy movie truth, but a fact of non-celluloid life, Aunt Enid knows that life and death are never orderly. This is quickly borne out as word spreads throughout Pelham that Enid is willing to pass on a prayer request or two to the Powers that Be. There's no list or careful planning that's going to prepare Aaron for the day he's about to have.
Prayers from Pelham is a comedic short that handles both death and life with a light touch. When Dr. Callaway (Ron Holman) breaks the news of Enid's condition to Aaron, the moment has weight, but never feels leaden. In fact, Dr. Callaway's role—as well as Enid's—could have come off little more than a caricature (remember the wizened old coot). Yet, Dr. Callaway's character embodies the best of Prayers. He treats Enid's condition with the respect it deserves, yet he never loses his sense of humor. And while Dr. Callaway has other patients he must tend to, he still takes a moment to treat Aaron like a human being.
From exploring more of Pelham and all its various characters, to the Don Knotts level of wackiness Aaron's plight could generate, Prayers is a rare short that actually has enough story and character to sustain a feature length film. If this is what Joy Bean Studios is capable of, I can't wait to see what's next.
Charles Judson is a local screen and comic book writer and regular reviewer for cinemATL.
Prayers from Pelham
Rating: (3 out of 4)
Directed by: Ruckus Skye
Written by: Lane Skye, Ruckus Skye
Starring: Scott Poythress, Inia Jean Plumb, Ron Holman, Claire Bronson, Minnie Tee, Amy Holt
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Prayers from Pelham
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