Sunday, February 26, 2012

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life - DVD Review (a new movie based on the middle grade novel by Wendy Mass)

It takes guts to write a middle grade children's book centering on the great philosophical question -- What is the meaning of life? In 2006 author Wendy Mass took a stab at answering the age old question in her book, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life. Her book about living each day fully and finding one's equilibrium after personal loss went on to receive many positive accolades by both adults and kids.

A family-friendly movie version of the beloved story is set to release on DVD on March 6th. Mass' fans will be delighted to discover that the movie, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, retains many of the tender and quirky aspects of the book, even Jeremy's odd peanut butter sandwich obsession! The movie's cast includes some big names including Mira Sorvino, Joe Pantoliano and Roscoe Orman (Sesame Street).

Ever since his father's death, Jeremy Fink has dreamed of finding a way to connect with his dad, so much so that he attempts to build a time machine. Turns out he doesn't need a time machine, he needs a box! Jeremy receives a most mysterious gift a month before his 13th birthday - a locked wooden box with an unusual inscription on the top, "The Meaning of Life: For Jeremy Fink to open on his Thirteenth Birthday. Years earlier Jeremy's dad passed away in a car accident, and, before he died, he assembled the box with Jeremy in mind. Opening the box requires four keys, but sadly the keys are missing. Jeremy and his best friend, Lizzy, embark on a journey around New York City in search of the keys. During the search they meet several eccentric individuals who offer insights that bring them closer to finding the answers they seek.

Tender yet humorous at the same time, the movie provides a fresh and interesting perspective on life. The two teen actors who play Jeremy and Lizzy (Maxwell Beer and Ryan Simpkins) play their roles wonderfully in this coming-of-age story. Their devoted friendship is really the heart of the film. Lizzy helps Jeremy find his way and encourages him to face his fears. One of my favorite lines in the film is, "Are you gonna sit there what-iffing all day when you can actually go out into the world and find the answers?" It is also really nice to see a boy/girl friendship that maintains closeness without becoming romantic, despite Lizzy's "feminine wiles."

Before I watched the movie I made of point of finding a copy of Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life to read. I'm so glad I did. Wendy Mass has an amazing flair for bringing unusual subjects to light and writing books that stimulate the mind. Her characters have real emotional depth, while exhibiting true to life, somewhat humorous oddities. I really enjoyed this coming-of-age story and now understand why the book has a fairly large following. It is for this reason I was somewhat apprehensive to watch the movie version.

Thankfully, the book's storyline is only moderately altered. The movie version is lightened with the addition of dorky humor and over-the-top, wacky characters often found in kid flicks. This is definitely a movie meant for tweens, pimples and all! Several of the characters including Oswald and Jeremy's mother are a lot more eccentric in the film than in the book. To be honest, I wasn't very happy with how Mr. Oswald's character was portrayed in the film. In the book he is a distinguished mentor figure, but not so in the movie. Luckily, James the limo driver (played by Michael Urie), in a way, takes over this guiding role in the movie. As a Christian, I am disappointed the characters didn't at least explore a religious perspective on life in the film. I do really like the creative way Jeremy's time machine plays a key part in the search -- a nice twist different from the ending in the book. Jeremy's t-shirt in the middle of the film is an awesome touch. Yes, he is definitely a true "Rock It Scientist."

I'm sure Wendy Mass will gain quite a few new fans with the release of this film. It's thought provoking and full of heart without being too preachy, just like her books. Definitely worth a watch, but make sure to read the book, too! (And, by the way, if you watch really closely at the beginning of the museum scene, you might just see Mass star in a cameo role in the film.)

(DVD Source: DVD provided for review purposes by Phase 4 Films and Team Mom. All opinions expressed are my own. I am an Amazon affiliate and may receive a very small commission for products purchased through my Amazon links. View my full disclosure statement for more information about my reviews.)