An unbilled Jim Carrey shows up in a New Hampshire cemetery for a cameo as Joe, the narrator of this tale of childhood bonds. The young Joe (Joseph Mazzello) sticks by his dwarfish pal Simon Birch (Ian Michael Smith), even when Simon accidentally kills Joe’s mother (the luminous Ashley Judd) with a foul ball he hits at a Little League game.
Wait up. Fate, freaks, friends — this sounds like a film version of John Irving’s 1989 novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany. It was, until Irving saw the script by writer and first-time director Mark Steven Johnson. As a result, names have been changed (Owen is now Simon) and the screen credit reads “suggested by” instead of “adapted from” Irving’s novel.
Fair enough. Admirers of Irving’s sprawling tome are sure to find Birch a botch. Others might enjoy this Hallmark-ish condensation for its earnest intentions and the affecting performances from Smith, Mazzello; Judd and David Strathairn as a priest with a guilty secret. Then again, Johnson could have left the book alone and started from scratch. That’s from an idea “suggested by” me.