Spirits on the rise

Eight pictures to lift you up

To uplift: To cheer up, to elevate one’s spirits, to instill happiness, to inspire, to brighten one’s social, spiritual, or intellectual condition.

I’d like to uplift you in these challenging times by revisiting eight films that never fail to raise my spirits.

For those who feel deprived by the cancelation of sports, from little league and March Madness through the MLB’s opening day and the Summer Olympics, I suggest three movies. Each is ideal for family viewing.

I hope these movies bring some cheer to a world that has little league coaches with no teams, high school basketball players with no hoops to shoot, and color commentators with nothing to say,

Breaking Away (1979)

Breaking Away still

Breaking Away, 20th Century Fox, 1979.

Breaking Away (20th Century Fox) was a sign-post film about young men, treated in a cross-genre effort that combined family issues with youth malaise. Four “townies” in Bloomington, Ind., lack direction and motivation, spending their days after high school swimming in an abandoned quarry, hanging out, and riding their bikes. As locals in a college town, they often are at odds with the students who attend Indiana University.

As a gesture of town-and-gown cooperation, IU President John Ryan (who portrays himself) invites the four friends to participate in the university’s annual endurance bicycle race. For protagonist Dave Stohler (Dennis Christopher), a charmer obsessed with Italian bike racing, this is a dream come true.

The competition is both thrilling and reconciling in its resolution of personal and family issues. Roger Ebert said” the film makes you feel about as good as any movie in a long time … In fact it’s a treasure.”

My take: The day after I saw Breaking Away at a theater in Ann Arbor’s Briarwood Mall. I took my 15-year-old son, John, along so we could watch it together.

Critics’ take: In the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Most Inspiring Films, Breaking Away is ranked number 8.

Where to watch: Prime Video, YouTube

Bend it Like Beckham  (2002)

Bend it like Beckham still

Bend it Like Beckham, Fox Searchlight, 2002.

Bend it Like Beckham (Fox Searchlight) originally was titled Move It Like Mia, a tribute to the professional women’s soccer player and Olympic gold medalist, Mia Hamm. But British-Indian co-writer and director Gurinder Chadha held out for Beckham, the fabled Manchester United footballer known for his ability to score free kicks by bending the ball around defenders.

The story follows 18-year-old Jess (Parminder Nagra), the daughter of British Indian Sikhs, who have denied Jess’s one desire, to play on a local girls’ football team. Seeing her one day in a pick-up game at the park, Jules (17-year-old Keira Knightley) encourages her to join the Hounslow Harriers, coached by handsome Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).

With her striking athletic abilities, Jess becomes a key player on the team, but is forced to quit when she has to help the family prepare for her sister’s wedding. But when Jules attends the wedding and tells Jess an American college scout is coming to watch the final match, the climax becomes inevitable. Jess wears jersey number 7, David Beckham’s number for the match, and Jules wears Mia Hamm’s number 9.

My take: This is a terrific family movie and a thriller for sports lovers.

Critics’ take: The Hindu wrote, “If ever there is a film that is positive, realistic, and yet delightful, then it has to be this one.”

Where to watch: Netflix, Hulu

The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

Peanut Butter Falcon still

The Peanut Butter Falcon, Roadside Attractions, 2019.

This road picture is one of the most adored and inspiring films of last year. Set on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, The Peanut Butter Falcon is about teenager Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a Down syndrome resident in a care facility. He spends his days watching wrestling on TV with his suitemate, Carl (Bruce Dern).

Clever Zak attempts to escape the facility but is caught and returned. He dreams of running away to a wrestling camp run by his favorite television wrestler, “Salt Water Redneck.” Carl helps him execute a successful escape and Zak meets the unlicensed fisherman, Tyler (Shia LeBeouf), currently on the run. They strike out together on Tylyer’s rickety boat, and eventually a hastily constructed raft (echoes of Huckleberry Finn). Soon, Tyler is coaching Zak to gain self-confidence as they survive on a travel diet of mostly peanut butter. Zak announces that his wrestling persona will be “Peanut Butter Falcon” and coats himself with the sandwich spread.

Dakota Johnson plays the facility’s caretaker and fulfills the role of love interest in the plot arc. Zak’s wrestling ambitions play out in the film’s climactic buildup and it’s one which won’t fail to make you smile.

My take: Watching Gottsagen, a young actor with Down Syndrone, making his way through this remarkable film like a seasoned professional is nothing short of remarkable and endearing.

Critics’ take: Referring to the film’s nod to Huckleberry Film, Rotten Tomatoes’ consensus assessment said: “A feel-good adventure brought to life by outstanding performances. The Peanut Butter Falcon finds rich modern resonance in classic America fiction.”

Where to watch: Vudu, Prime Video, YouTube

Lion (2016)

Lion still

Lion, the Weinstein Company, 2016.

The much-lauded Lion (the Weinstein Company) comes in two parts and is based on Saroo Brierley’s autobiography, A Long Way Home.

The movie opens in India where 5-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) are snitching coal from a freight train stopped in their small town. They plan to sell the coal to buy bread and milk for their poor mother and sister. Saroo, tired, curls up and falls asleep in one of the train cars. When he wakes, he is on a moving train bound for Calcutta. The film takes a Dickensian turn as we see the child wandering alone in a dark city fending off kidnappers and a couple with devious intentions. Eventually, Saroo is placed in an orphanage and put up for adoption. An Australian couple John (David Wenham) and Sue Brierley (Nicole Kidman) bring Saroo home and raise him in Tasmania.

The second part of the film finds 25-year-old Saroo (Dev Patel) now in Melbourne seeking a career in hotel management. Hearing his story, Indian friends encourage him to use Google Earth as a means of finding his hometown. Early efforts are futile and Saroo goes to visit his adoptive mother Sue. In a heartfelt monologue, she explains why she adopted Saroo, and give him her blessing to search for his original home.

End titles with documentary film and photographs reveal Saroo Brierley’s reunion with his birth family, where he learns that his name, pronounced correctly, means ‘Lion.’

My take: This is a feel-good experience, powerfully acted by Pawar, Patel, and Kidman.

Critics’ take: Critic/author Salman Rushdie wrote, “One of the things that impressed me about Lion was its authenticity and truth and unsparing realism in its Indian first half … If (it) doesn’t make you cry you should have someone check your tear ducts, which may be malfunctioning.” Deadline Hollywood. (Feb.21, 2017).

Where to watch: Prime Video, YouTube

Hope and Glory (1987)

Hope and Glory still

Hope and Glory, Columbia Pictures, 1987.

News reports from the U.K. note many British citizens enduring the COVID-19 pandemic have invoked the German blitzes of the early 1940s as a reminder of the vast challenges we face. The resolve back then and now: “press on” and reclaim the self-reliance of that earlier dark period that upended British life.

John Boorman’s autobiographical Hope and Glory (Columbia Pictures), now considered a national treasure, revisits the German blitz through the eyes of 10-year-old Billy Rowan (Sebastian Rice Edwards). Billy lives in suburban London with his mother and two sisters while the family patriarch is at war. With touches of playfulness and youthful adventure, Billy and his classmates find endless thrills in a London under siege — after all it’s their playground by day. All sorts of wartime events come and go and spark the imagination of a curious 10-year-old lad.

My take: “Perfect for family viewing.” I love the warm nostalgic feel and comedic touches in this enduring, uplifting classic. Even the very young Brits back then were able to “press on.”

Critics’ take: New York Times critic Janet Maslin wrote, “It’s difficult to imagine anyone’s remembrance of WWII as idyllic but it’s not impossible. In John Boorman’s radiant Hope and Glory, the autobiographical hero is a young boy of just the right age, humor, and sensitivity to savor the adventure of which he’s a part.” (Oct. 9, 1987).

Where to watch: YouTube, Amazon Prime, iTunes

Moonstruck (1987)

Moonstruck still

Moonstruck, MGM/UA, 1987.

Bookkeeper Loretta Castorini (Cher) is an Italian-American widow living with her parents, Rose (Olympia Dukakis) and Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia) in Brooklyn Heights. Loretta has committed to marrying Johnny (Danny Aiello) when he returns from visiting his ailing mother in Sicily. Theirs is a comfortable, passion-free relationship. While awaiting Johnny’s return, Loretta meets his feisty, estranged brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage) and they embark on an affair. Loretta feels guilty and wants to break it off, but agrees to one last date with Ronny and they attend the opera, La Boheme.

Loretta spies Cosmo with his mistress, Mona, and scolds him. Meanwhile, her mother, who is dining alone, is joined by one of her favorite college professors. When he walks her home, Rose says, “I can’t ask you in. I’m married.”

Moonstruck is a gem of Italian-American customs and superstitions, specifically: “Wonderful things often happen when there’s a full moon over Brooklyn.”

My take: Moonstruck is a wonderful rom-com rich in production values and multifaceted performances. Cher and Olympia Dukakis won acting Oscars; John Patrick Shanley won for Best Original Screenplay. |

Critics’ take: Chris Chase of The New York Daily News” wrote, “This is a movie that makes you want to sing Boheme and walk in the moonlight and move to Brooklyn.”  (Dec.19, 1987).

Where to watch: YouTube, Amazon Prime, iTunes

An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)

An Officer and a Gentleman Still

An Officer and a Gentleman, Paramount Pictures, 1982.

This military drama/romance centers on impetuous “navy brat” Zack Mayo (Richard Gere), son of a distant father and a late mother who died by suicide. Zack escapes his father by signing up for Aviation Officer Candidate School (AOCS). His lack of discipline raises the ire of Gunnery Sgt. Emil Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr.) who invokes an 1860 ruling that established guidelines for accepting officers into the military. Foley informs Zack that his behavior is unbecoming of “an officer and a gentleman” and threatens to make Zack’s training pure hell. Desperate for Foley’s acceptance, Zack begins the painful process toward legitimate change.

Embedded in the drama is Zack’s romantic involvement with blue-collar factory worker Paula (Debra Winger). In the climactic scene following Zack’s commission, we see Gere in his sparkling navy whites, “rescuing” Paula from the factory as he lifts her into his arms to the applause of her fellow workers.

My take: An Officer and a Gentleman (Paramount Pictures) offered a turnaround from Hollywood romance dramas, which for years had avoided treatments with uplifting endings. There were no walks into the sunset at the conclusion of Love Story (1970), An Unmarried Woman (1972) or Continental Divide (1981), among many others from this time.

Critics’ take: Roger Ebert expressed my feelings and those of most filmgoers at the time when he described the film as “a  wonderful movie precisely because it is so willing to deal with matters of the heart … By the time the last scene comes along, we know exactly what’s happening and it makes us very happy.”

Where to watch:  YouTube, Vudu, Google Play Movies and TV

Babette’s Feast (1987)

Babette’s Feast, Nordisk Film, 1987.

Large family gatherings, from weddings to funerals, have been sidelined in this time of social distancing. Passover Seders and Easter celebrations evolved into streaming events in 2020 as loved ones “got together” on their computer screens.

Babette’s Feast (Nordisk Film), which I’ve written about before in Michigan Today (Oh, you’re a holiday, Nov. 13, 2017), is an ideal antidote for those desperate to enjoy a lively festive occasion. The film, based on a story by Isak Dinesen, takes place in a small, isolated village on Denmark’s Jutland coast. Babette (Stephane Aubran), an acclaimed Parisian chef and recent widow, arrives at the home of two sisters, struggling to minister to their late father’s dwindling congregation. She explains she is a war refugee and will cook for them if they will take her in.

Years pass and chef Babette simplifies her repertoire, dulling down her dishes to meet the uninspired needs of her benefactors. When she comes into a lottery win, Babette decides to revisit her “lost art” and spends the money on a meal to celebrate the deceased minister’s centennial. Though the sisters’ menu calls for “just tea and ale bread,” Babette orders delicacies, champagne, and wine from France. Observing Babette at work in the kitchen will excite anybody who loves cooking.

One of the dinner guests, a retired, erudite general toasts to the chef’s talent and describes the meal as a moment in which “bliss and mercy kiss.” He philosophizes eloquently about the relationship between “bodily and spiritual appetites.”

In addition to its culinary delights, Babette’s Feast comes with a delicious offering of classical opera and traditional hymns.

My take: You’ll find the full sumptuous menu in the film’s online description.

Critics’ take: ‘Rotten Tomatoes’ describes the movie as “a timeless Scandinavian treat that explores the complex relationship between people’s beliefs and what it means to be an artist. Charming.”

Where to watch: Prime Video, iTunes, Apple TV.


  1. Kelley Hersey - BFA 1979

    Thank you, thank you so sincerely for providing me and my family (which includes a headstrong, artistic and perceptive 12-year-old boy) with some new and necessary inspiration in quarantined times. A few of these classics I remember but I deeply appreciate their inclusion in abbreviated, reviewed list form. We’ve run dry of new movie inspiration now that a homeschooling schedule allows for sleeping in late!


    • Carolyn Bowers - MI.undergrad.1960 Masters degreeThe Ohio State University

      I do love my Michigan and all the Alumna news. Thank You for this one as I think we are going to need it.


  2. Reginald Franklin - '83

    Thanks Frank…I hope you are well and doing OK through all of this…great choices (and reviews)…Take care…


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