Small Group [2020] (Movie Review)

3 Things to Know about Small Group the Movie

Plot Summary

R. Scott Cooper is a struggling documentary film maker, but he gets a big break when an investor pays him to move his family to Georgia and go undercover as a local church member. While in disguise, Scott is supposed to record everything he sees using a special pair of glasses. However, halfway through the assignment, Scott and his wife begin to change their minds about the scheme as things in the small group aren’t what they thought. Will they have the courage to do what’s right before it’s too late?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a 2020 production, Small Group‘s is nearly flawless. Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are all on point. The sets, locations, and props are well-funded and well-utilized. There are no lighting problems, and the soundtrack is acceptable. The only thing keeping this section from being perfect is the poor editing, but this is likely a byproduct of a bloated plot. Hence, this section receives a high score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Despite a somewhat forced premise, this narrative has a surprising amount of potential, starting with the mostly realistic portrayals of people in churches. Some comedic scenes are actually funny due to pretty good dialogue, and the writers raise a lot of legitimate points about institutionalized churches. Nonetheless, the storylines struggles with being more than just a collection of funny sequences that are strung together without specific focus. The ‘villain’ is a total strawman, and certain things happen because the plot requires them to, causing the characters to be swept away in the circumstances and hitting on all the expected points. Although there are too many characters and subplots to adequately focus on in one film, some scenes occur for no reason at all except to fill time. Trying to do everything at once causes the narrative to leave behind a lot of unfinished ideas; it feels more like a series than a movie as some elements come completely out of left field and don’t fit with the overall purpose (if there is one). The sheer amount of content in this story is overwhelming for the audience, and some humor is just ridiculously obnoxious. However, though the ending sequence is rushed and tends to magically fix its problems via unrealistic coincidences, the conclusion is better than the beginning if you make it there. Therefore, this sliver of potential, in addition to pretty good characters, keeps this section from being zero.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Much like its production, Small Group‘s acting is actually quite good. Though some cast members tend to have overdone lines and emotions, all performances get better as they go. As a whole, this section exhibits a lot of professionalism and rounds out a big mixed bag.

Conclusion

This screenplay’s central problem is that it can’t decide if it’s about hidden problems within the American church, quirks of American churchgoers, ministries and corruption in Central America, and people doing silly stuff together. Surprisingly, despite the jumbled plot, there’s actually hope for Small Group…in series form. There’s simply too much going on here to make a less-than-two-hour film. Had a series been made instead of a movie, this idea would have had more room to authentically develop. As it is, based on its heavy marketing push, Small Group unfortunately feels like another Christian entertainment cash grab.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Born to Win [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Leon Terblanche was always told by his father that he would never amount to anything.  When he and his mother fled the abuse of his home only to abandon him at a hotel, Leon found himself as the only white child in a segregated African community during apartheid in South Africa.  However, the government discovered him there and took him away to be passed from home to home before he was able to strike out of his own and begin working for the railroad.  During his whole life, Leon was always angry and resentful towards his father, even after he married and began a family of his own.  He medicated this anger with alcohol, but when everything hit a breaking point, he was forced to choose between his own ways and the ways of the God he always pushed away.

Production Quality (2 points)

Despite their landmark production Faith Like Potatoes, Global Creative Studios did not have as much production success in Born to Win.  The video quality, camera work, and action shots are fine in this film, and the audio is fairly good, but there are several other issues to contend with.  While sets, locations, and props are sometimes fine and realistic, there are some very obvious fake backgrounds that put a damper on things.  Plenty of time and effort was put into this production, including a good soundtrack, but there are a handful of small things that hold it back from being all it could be.  The most glaring problem that hurts the film is the severely choppy editing, and this is also related to the plot problems.  Moreover, this production is mainly above average, but it’s still a letdown after the success of Faith Like Potatoes.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Frans Cronje and his team have always been committed to telling the great and true stories of real people with real struggles, and this commitment is still evident in Born to Win.  However, despite the great source material, the presentation of it is quite poor.  This is most notable due the extreme amount of heavy-handed narration that greatly hurts character growth and plot development.  The narration is mainly used to plug up the plot holes created by the breakneck time jumps that are present in the story.  These two factors combined make it nearly impossible for characters to develop as the dialogue is stunted and choppy.  Despite the little time available, there are still lots of wasted scenes, and though there is plenty of content to work with in the real story, there is little to no story organization as it jumps from one thing after the next.  Too much ground is attempted to be covered without the effective use of flashbacks or actual dialogue.  The lack of substantial dialogue and character development makes it very difficult to appreciate the otherwise meaningful struggles of the characters due to the wasted time and large gaps, and viewers are told things that are hard to believe due to poor development.  Unfortunately, it all boils down to a flat ending with little meaning because of this.  It’s too bad because there was tons of potential here for a great message to be shared.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Though the acting appears to begin well, it tends to get worse as the film goes on, especially as cast members are forced to play multiple age brackets that they are not exactly suited for.  Line delivery and emotions can be awkward at times, and there is an overall need for more coaching.  There are times when emotions are lines are too forced, and there are one too many scenes of poorly executed yelling and screaming.  Overall, this caps off a mostly disappointing effort that had so much going for it.

Conclusion

The Cronje creative team has definitely shown the height of their potential, but it’s possible they tried to do too much on their own in Born to Win.  Faith Like Potatoes obviously had a better collaborative effort behind it, which is an important lesson to learn in film making.  One success does not equal constant success; it’s something has to be continually worked for, and it’s definitely not easy.  However, it’s totally worth it in the end, especially when you have good stories that need to be told.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points