One critic's trash is another critic's treasure, or so it seems from this week's crop of mostly polar reviews from Christian critics: Meet the Parents, Girlfight, Best in Show, and Dancer in the Dark all received high praise and harsh appraisals.

What's Hot

Meet the Parents's $28.6 million haul this weekend set a new record for October debuts, crushing the old mark held by Antz ($17.2 million). The majority of Christian critics were as wowed by the film as audiences. "Imagine a marriage of Nora Ephron romanticism and the insane physical humor of the Farrelly brothers," writes Focus on the Family's Bob Smithouser, "operating in a kinder, gentler mode. That may be the best way to describe Meet the Parents, a heartfelt, yet manic comedy." The story focuses on Greg Focker (Ben Stiller), a young man trying desperately to win the affection of his girlfriend's father (Robert De Niro) but making one mistake after another. "This movie holds together because of two strong leads," says World magazine, "and a hyperactive pace in which one wild event piles on top of another. … Most of the action comes off as strangely believable, especially since audiences are set up to sympathize with the Stiller character." Holly McClure of also liked the truthful moments behind the laughs. "This hilarious comedy captures the fear, angst and painful paranoia of seeking approval from future in-laws," McClure says, "and, in the process, discovering truths about yourself." The film also included some positive messages about marriage—"it champions the permanence of marriage," says Smithouser—and about telling the truth. "Honesty plays a big part in the film's theme," notes Preview's Mary Draughon. "Greg and Pam lie to her parents about living together, and Greg's bumbling attempts to win over Jack lead to further lies," which complicate his troubles even more.Michael Elliott of was pleased by how clean the film was: "The film contains many funny innuendoes, but … the filmmakers showed surprising restraint by not following the recent trend of overt outrageousness and blatant displays of gross-out humor." Other critics, however, found the innuendoes—especially the frequent repetition of Greg's last name—to be subversively offensive. "There is nothing wrong with any name as long as it is spoken as a name instead of a euphemism for vulgar speech," says the ChildCare Action Project. In this case, though, there's "no doubt about the taking advantage of 'safety' in manufactured ambiguity to employ vulgarity."The Dove Foundation's Phil Boatwright found it doubly offensive that foul language was coming from characters who were implied Christians. "My problem with this light-hearted comedy is that the light-heartedness is missing. … Four uses of Christ's name as if it were a mere expletive, from screen family members who pray at mealtime no less, gives the film a hostile, negative quality." Movieguide agreed, arguing that "it encourages the audience to laugh at or ridicule the true, the good, the just, and/or the beautiful. For example, it mocks the Christian faith during a scene where Greg prays at the dinner table." Movieguide also cites a scene in which Pam's ex-boyfriend "extols Jesus Christ as a role model but in a glib manner," as a mockery of Christian faith. Boatwright agrees that this character helps paint "all believers as phonies," since he's "as hypocritical as the praying, yet profaning, family." Other critics, however, embraced the ex-boyfriend; Smithouser calls him "a smart, hip, gracious, fun, likable born-again Christian," and Elliott says it's a "small but very well-drawn role [of a] wealthy, handsome and benevolent [person who] attributes his interest in woodworking to Jesus."

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What's New

Pokémon rip-off Digimon: The Movie opened with a measly $4.2 million (far shy of the $21.5 million that the Pokémon sequel debuted with this summer). Christian critics appreciated that Digimon didn't copy the occultic overtones of the Pokémon phenomenon, but found little else to praise. "The Digimon animals and monsters do not appear to be occultic in nature, but only fantasy creatures with enormous strength," writes John Evans of Preview. Still, he says, "most of the monsters are shockingly hideous, frightening and incredibly destructive," and "the incessant, overpowering use of violent battles, explosions and property destruction is a blatant exploitation of violence to entertain, and a prime example of entertainment that begins desensitizing children to violence at a young age."Michael Elliott of took more offense at the quality of the script: An evil Digimon is eating up Internet data, gaining power and taking over worldwide communications, while the good-guy kids help other Digimon save the world. "The story, such as it is, is rather muddled and poorly related," says Elliott. "[It's] difficult to follow the story or keep the characters, who are blandly similar to one another, distinguishable." Don't expect any life lessons, either. "The logic presented in the film," says Elliott, "borders on the inane. 'Sometimes you've got to save the world, even if you're the one that caused the problem,' one of the young characters profoundly intones."

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Christian critics found a lot to love about Girlfight, an indie drama about a troubled teenage girl who takes up boxing, but each loved different elements. Preview's John Adair, for example, says the main character, Diana, "should be inspiring for young women feeling pressure in predominantly male career fields," while Movieguide dubbed this "a mild feminist worldview." Instead, Movieguide praises the acting: "Michelle Rodriguez as Diana and Jaime Tirelli as boxing trainer Hector, deliver outstanding performances." But for Adair, "the film's actors are average at best and never really connect on an emotional level." Hillari Hunter, guest reviewer for Christian Spotlight, liked how the movie revealed the nobility of sport. "Once Diana starts training, she has a purpose. Boxing gives her self-respect, and it channels her anger into something positive." The Dove Foundation's Phil Boatwright, on the other hand, says "I'm not sure any of these characters … are positive role models. The lead is full of anger and finally learns how to express it by entering the ring."Christopher Guest, star of This is Spinal Tap and the director/star of Waiting for Guffman, brings another fake documentary to theaters with Best of Show. The film, largely improvised by Guest, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, and Parker Posey, is set in the competitive world of dog shows. It hit the funny bone of Phil Boatwright of the Dove Foundation, who writes that Guest "has an ear for this [lampooning] style of writing, and a very intuitive view of human nature. … Every character in the picture is unconventional, to say the least, making for some very funny moments. But while it is a humorous look at their way of life, Guest does not belittle his creations. There is a sweet spirit and a poignancy to this look at human nature." Movieguide, however, took the opposite opinion on every count. "It would be hard to describe how offensive this movie is," Movieguide says, noting "not-so-subtle attacks on heterosexuals, Christianity, faith, values, and an ugly, mean-spirited, misanthropic mocking of everyone and everything. … What is interesting, however, is that [Guest] does not have the courage to go far enough to sustain the humor of the satire. Instead, the movie pulls its punches."

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Mainstream opinion has been so divided on the Lars Von Trier musical Dancer in the Dark that Entertainment Weekly ran two opposing reviews on the film. Christian critics followed suit, as Preview's John Adair and the Dove Foundation's Phil Boatwright took contrary positions. Adair says it delivers a "powerful picture of a truly unique woman. The varied, yet tremendous musical score … leaves a lasting impression, and the film will do the same for all who get a chance to see it." The movie follows a Czech immigrant in America (Icelandic pop star Bjork) saving money to buy her son an eyesight-saving operation, but accused of thievery by a neighbor. Adair praises the film for its cleanliness, too. "With only two regular profanities and a single mild crudity, Dancer in the Dark has little traditional objectionable content. Its 'R' rating comes from two violent scenes, neither are particularly graphic." Boatwright, however, found the story itself objectionable. "It couldn't be drearier had Kafka and Lenin collaborated on the screenplay. … There's a lot of suffering going on, with little hope to cling to." He wasn't fond of Bjork's performance, either. "Although you are supposed to feel the actress's ecstasy, pain and optimism through her voice, I found her singing more like listening to a demonic cat. … As for her character, Selma is not merely simple-minded, but completely delusional. It's not only difficult to relate to her, you just don't want to."

What's Noteworthy

Boatwright found a musical more to his liking in The Fantasticks, the film version of the long-running off-Broadway love story. "Filmed with a simplistic look and using a minimalist approach to staging, the filmmakers have done a splendid job of placing us in the center stage," Boatwright says for the Dove Foundation. "All at once, we are all young and in love. Joe McIntyre does a credible job in the thankless role of the film's hero, but it is Jean Louisa Kelly who mesmerizes as the young beauty who wants to be in love, but also wants to travel throughout the world with her very own hero." Movieguide was also enthusiastic." The Fantasticks is a thoroughly enjoyable tale of fantasy and romance set in a magnificent rural landscape. … Director Michael Ritchie takes a wistful approach to the story's happy ending that lingers. It's a feeling of nostalgia and yearning." Movieguide objected to one scene at a carnival that displays fake breasts, saying it "breaks the spell of the movie's many charms," while Boatwright felt "this scene is used symbolically, suggesting the world's temptation."Christian critics were also ebullient about the new IMAX film Cyberworld 3D, the first three-dimensional animated movie. Most of the material is recycled from other animated projects—including the "Homer cubed" episode of The Simpsons and the dancing scene from Antz—but is given the 3-D treatment to put the viewer in the midst of the action. "Audiences will marvel at the truly amazing images as they seem to pass, literally, by their eyes," says Paul Bicking of Preview. "Younger viewers may be disturbed by some scary underwater creatures with sharp teeth, particularly when the teeth come out of the screen toward the audience. But children and adults alike will enjoy the colorful, fantastic scenes in Cyberworld 3D that seem almost touchable."'s Michael Elliott says it is "imaginative, impressive and fascinating to watch." His one complaint was the film's animated host, and the sketchy plot used to link the segments, which "are rather shallow and insubstantial. But the visual effects are so magnificent," he says, "that we barely take notice." Elliott adds that "the most successful segments are also the most familiar. In Antz, we are reminded of how witty and rich the dialogue of that film could be. … Instead of detracting from the scene, the 3D effect served to compliment the outstanding computer artwork already evident in the film."

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Steve Lansingh is editor of, an Internet magazine devoted to Christian conversation about the movies.

Related Elsewhere

See earlier Film Forum postings for these movies in the box-office top ten: Remember the Titans, The Exorcist, Almost Famous, Urban Legends: Final Cut, Bring It On, The Watcher, and Nurse Betty. (The Sylvester Stallone thriller Get Carter also finished in the top ten, but since it was not screened in advance for the press, reviews for the movie will be covered in next week's edition.)