Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Watching this movie is like sitting on your back porch in the summertime with a glass of lemonade. There's something beautifully innocent about it. Movies with this quality are far too rare, and it's wonderful to find a film that encourages family values and teaches lessons about friendship, honesty, integrity, and selflessness while never coming across as preachy.
Billy Bob Murphy (Joe Pichler) and Preacher Star (Jesse Plemons) are best friends. They spend long summer days working down the street at the local war hero's automatic shop, playing in their tree house, and dumping ants into their favorite girls' picnic hampers. On his thirteenth birthday, Billy Bob falls in love. The east-bound bus brings Lily Jane Bobbit (Tania Raymonde) into town, along with her speech-impaired mother. This dynamic little drama queen talks like an adult and immediately wins over both boys' awe and admiration. More than that, she moves in right next door. The boys follow her all over town and soon get into a quarrel over who deserves to woo her, much to the concern of Billy's mother Elinore (Sheryl Lee). Since the death of her husband early on in WWII, she has struggled to bring up her son to be a man they would both be proud of.
His recent choices have left her disappointed, but a ray of sunlight comes in the form of Lily Jane, who begins to change the views of the entire town. She raises eyebrows when she befriends a local black girl. She encourages the pastor to speak out against racism. Shortly after her arrival, another set of visitors roll into the small town in Arkansas. Charm and composure lead them to become immediately popular, and they insist on putting together a talent show, of which Miss Lily Jane intends to participate. One of the softer sub-plots involves the mild courtship of Elinore by her late husband's best friend and town sheriff, Speedy (Christopher McDonald). The film reminds me of the novels I used to read as a child about the character of "Soup" and his best friend Robert. They have the same softer formula and mischievous nature, but at the heart of the movie are many important messages about tolerance, restitution for past wrongs, taking personal responsibility, and growing up.
Lily Jane becomes a voice of reason in the community and influences the boys to become better individuals. It's done in such a way that the audience adores her rather than feels as though they're being preached at. Characters are introduced to very serious issues, but from a child's perspective. We deal with racism on a light level. There are slights toward professional con men, and value is placed on working hard for good money. The children are very industrious and come up with ways to earn summer money. Billy Bob's mother is harsh when it is needed, but understanding. None of the adults are portrayed in any way but a respectful light. The production was done by a company devoted to bringing quality family-friendly entertainment to local theatres. Everything about it is stellar. The acting does seem a little stilted at times, but much of that can be attributed to how unused to the type of accents they are using one is. Southerners generally speak in a slow drawl. Everyone is perfectly cast, and there is little in the way of objectionable content. The boys engage in a couple of fistfights. Older boys bully the girls, and are threatened with a gun. Children tackle an adult to the ground. "Lord" is used as an exclamation once or twice, and "d*mn" is uttered a couple of times. It's a wonderful little film to curl up with on a warm summer afternoon, and remember the innocence of earlier days.