Beloved Communities

congregation1I experience the warm fuzzies inside when I view a movie that illustrates the transformative affects of a community united and rallied around a cause. Two movies I’ve seen have done just that. On the eve of MLK Day and 1 day, 7 hours, 38 minutes, 25 seconds (and counting upon the writing of this post) of President-Elect Obama’s inauguration, I am hopeful that this same sort of transformative power will be harnessed in communities across America. Tomorrow I will be serving in the MLK Jr. Service summit hosted by Hands On Atlanta as I have done for the last several years. What are you doing?

The two movies I am referring to are Be Kind Rewind and Lars and the Real Girl.  Neither are serious dramas or hollywood blockbusters but they packed a powerful punch for me.

“One dollar, one movie, one night” is the policy of Mr. Fletcher’s (Danny Glover) video rental store where VHS movies have not been replaced by DVDs.  After being threatened with demolition and relocation to the projects if his building is not brought up to code, Mr. Fletcher leaves town on a secret trip to research possible solutions. He leaves the store in the capable hands of Mike (Mos Def), his most trusted and dedicated employee, with the message to “Keep Jerry Out.” Jerry (Jack Black) is Mike’s crazy, troublemaking best friend. Mike’s shenanigans lead him to erase every video. Mike and Jerry decide to reshoot the films resulting in what Jerry calls “sweded” versions. Mr. Fletcher returns convinced that turning the store into a DVD rental store like the rival West Coast video down the street is the only way to save his business. The team is not nonplussed, but resolves to increase  the creation of the sweeded versions by shooting shorter movies and including the customers in the productions.  The movie had enough of what I call “stupid-funny” content to keep me laughing throughout.  I was struck by the way a seemingly lifeless community comes to life under Mike and Jerry’s spell. The energy and bonds formed by these collective productions is palatable. Anyone who loves movies is sure to get a kick out of their remakes of Ghostbusters, Rush Hour 2, and The Lion King to name a few. The fight to keep the shop open becomes a metaphor for preserving the community itself.

Lars and the Real Girl, though more serious, was no less off beat in its humor and unconventionality. What would you do if someone in your community or family, was dating an anatomically-correct doll named Bianca? This is just the conundrum Lars (Ryan Gosling) puts upon his family and community. Pretty much a hermit, who only leaves the garage he insists on living in only to work and chop wood,  Lars  seems to be dealing with some serious demons or mental illness. His brother, Gus (Paul Schneider) has long since given up on reaching Lars, but cannot convince his wife, Karin (Emily Mortimer) to let him be. She constantly invites him to dinner, literally tackling him once in an effort to get him to eat with them.

The couple is convinced he is off his rocker when the woman he wants to sleep in the house turns out to be a blow up doll. In her “mother-like” love for Lars, Karin convinces Gus to play along. On the advice of the town physician, Dragmar (Patricia Clarkson), they continue to play along enlisting the help of the entire community as Lars begins to take his new friend around town.  The town’s response is remarkably touching in their acceptance of Lars and his Bianca. She gets a job, volunteers at the hospital, is elected to the school board… You have to see it to believe me. I don’t want to spoil the ending so I’ll stop there. This was a sweet, poignant story that took a lot of unexpected turns.

A community rallies around a business that is about to go under and in the process brings light to themeselves while forging communal bonds that can overcome any obstacle.  A young man in pain and possibly suffering from mental illness is embraced and understood by his community in a way that  transforms his life. Neither movie made loads of money nor gained much notireity, but they are worth your time.

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