'God Bless the Child': Film Review

Courtesy of SXSW
Kids do the darndest things, especially without adult supervision

Adventures in babysitting ensue when a depressive mother leaves her five children on their own

Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck's no-budget drama, which follows a group of siblings left alone for the day by their depressed, wayward mother, plays like a scripted reality program on the art of teenage babysitting, with its own intrinsic family dynamics. After exhausting its festival run, the film appears headed for relative obscurity, except perhaps among the Graham-family kids, who are featured prominently throughout.

With their second feature, Machoian and Ojeda-Beck seem intent on making a statement about the debilitating effects that chronic depression can have on the families of the afflicted. Trying to establish that premise by essentially omitting the depressive from the film, in this case mother Rebecca (Rebecca Graham), is like trying to prove a theorem with only half an equation. In one of the early scenes, Rebecca drives away unseen from the Graham's modest Davis, Calif., home without any mention of when, or if, she plans to return. That leaves 13-year-old Harper (Harper Graham) to care for her four much younger brothers for the remainder of a scattered summer day.

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Clearly it's not the first time she's been forced into the role of primary caregiver, as she tends to 12-month-old Jonah (Jonah Graham), making sure he takes his naps and gets his diapers changed. The other three kids spend the morning arguing and tussling with one another, although eldest boy Elias (Elias Graham) manages to maintain the upper hand over his brothers Arri (Arri Graham) and Ezra (Ezra Graham). An outing for a game of kick the can ends in a confrontation with a local man who scolds the kids for running wild in a nature preserve but not before Elias gives him a good telling-off. Back at home, they get their lunch, wash the family dogs and enjoy a visit to a local park before bedtime, where Harper has a brief, inconclusively flirtatious conversation with a neighbor boy. Although he suggests that she join him for a party later that evening, she declines, citing her childcare responsibilities, such as putting the kids to bed for the night.

Machoian takes a screenwriting credit along with Rebecca Graham, but the film can only be considered scripted in the sense that the children enact specific scenarios that are probably very similar to their everyday lives. Viewers inclined to consider kids in their natural element as inherently charming will probably be drawn in by the film's verite style, particularly if they're already inured to the typical wailing and bickering of young children, which absorbs a noticeable amount of screen time.

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Much briefer moments of quiet camaraderie and sibling harmony also emerge, but in the absence of a clear thematic arc, they lack the subtle emotionality to achieve sustained lyricism. The filmmakers' premise that longstanding, untreated depression among caregivers can adversely and unpredictably affect their families remains mostly speculative within the context of the film's vaguely articulated plot, however. Any similarities to the song made famous by Billie Holiday seem to be fairly inconsequential.

Production company: Four Thirty-Three Pictures

Cast: Harper Graham, Elias Graham, Arri Graham, Ezra Graham, Jonah Graham, Rebecca Graham, Bruce Graham

Directors: Robert Machoian, Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck

Screenwriters: Robert Machoian, Rebecca Graham

Producers: Robert Machoian, Robert John Thomas, Laura Heberton

Director of photography: Robert Machoian

Editors: Robert Machoian, Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck

 

No rating, 92 minutes

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