When one hears about a film like October Baby, which deals with the aftermath of a failed abortion and the impact it has on the lives of those affected, certain conclusions about it will emerge before even entering the theater. People will expect it to preach a pro-life message rather than tell a story. The film will manipulate characters so that they are neatly divided between evil and good. Religion will get shoved down the viewers’ throats. All of the loose ends will get tied up in a neat bow. And all of those conclusions will be … wrong.
October Baby tells the story of a young college student, Hannah (Rachel Hendrix), who has had numerous health issues in childhood but emerged as a generally healthy young adult when supported with proper medical care — at least until she collapses during a school play. The subsequent medical tests, and the reading of her private journal by her parents, lead to a clash in which she discovers for the first time that she was adopted, and that she survived an abortion at 24 weeks. Shocked, angry, and lost, Hannah joins her childhood confidante Jason (Jason Burkey) on a quest to find her true identity and some real meaning to her life.
This could have gone the way of a Lifetime movie, or have earnest but second-tier production treatment. Neither happens thanks to expert handling by co-directors Andrew and Jon Erwin, both of whom have a few years under their belts making values-themed entertainment. In fact, both leads appeared in their TV movie/pilot Alumni. The production values in the film are commensurate with theatrical-release drama, certainly on the same level as other romantic dramas for teens. The story itself provides surprises rather than opting for more feel-good resolutions of some conflicts. Religion comes into the story, but much less than one would imagine.
October Baby isn’t about religion, or even abortion as much as it is about forgiveness and letting go of pain and hurt. It never crosses over into a strident anti-abortion didactic as one might expect, although the subtext arises once or twice, especially in a heart-rending scene with a surprising performance from Jasmine Guy. The film tells a story and lets the viewers reach their own conclusions, but it doesn’t go out of its way to condemn anyone — and in one scene, even makes reference to violent protests at abortion clinics. The film has a point of view, to be sure, but it treats everyone fairly, with the possible exception of a minor romantic rivalry that is the film’s only real one-dimensional device and obvious cliché.
As for the performances, the cast impresses — especially Guy and John Schneider, who plays Hannah’s father and gives the performance of his life. They are the most recognizable stars in the cast, and both deliver powerful and vulnerable performances. I was amazed to discover after the film that October Baby is Hendrix’s first theatrical film and only her second credit; it won’t be her last. Hannah is the emotional center and core of the film, even when she can’t find her own core, and Hendrix captures her beautifully. However, special mention should be made of Shari Rigby as Hannah’s birth mother, who not only delivers a powerful performance, but also gives an emotional interview during the end credits. Do not miss it, and be sure to bring your handkerchiefs.
October Baby opens a week from today and is rated PG-13, for “mature thematic material,” which is certainly true. There isn’t anything in the film to which parents would object, like bad language or nudity, but it’s heavy material for kids and pre-teens.