Movie Nation

Movie Review: A child seeks answers about her origins in “So B. It”

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“I’m not psychic,” our young narrator reassures us. She’s just a near-savant at guessing numbers, cards, the right slot machine to toss a quarter into.

That’s a skill even a tween can use in Reno, Nevada.

Maybe she got it from her mama. But she (Jessica Collins) cannot tell her. She’s so developmentally disabled that her entire vocabulary is 22 words — one of them, her daughter’s name — Heidi.

The woman who looks after them both, Bernadette, may know something. But “B” is keeping it to herself. Which is why Heidi makes her escape — 12 years old and riding the bus from Reno to mysterious Liberty, New York in “So B. It,” a wan odyssey about disabilities, special abilities, looking for your history and changing your future by taking that one big risk.

Director Stephen Gyllenhaal (“Losing Isiah”), father of actors Maggie and Jake, returns to subjects similar to his disabled Debra Winger drama, “A Dangerous Woman” in adapting (with screenwriter Garry Williams) Sarah Weeks’ novel.

Mom is an adult child nicknamed “Precious,” full of love and eager to paint pictures of their happy “family.” But she can’t take care of herself, much less a child. Bernadette, given all the earthy mothering the great Alfre Woodard is famous for, cooks and cleans and dresses one and all, and home schools Heidi (Talitha Eliana Bateman, one of the child stars of “Annabelle: Creation”).

But that’s because Bernadette hasn’t left her Reno apartment in years. She’s agoraphobic.

Only our narrator is “normal.” And she’d like to know why that is, who her people are and where her mom is from. She has just enough clues, and a growing sense of independence from the ever-fearful “B.” A photograph and a town name send her on her way.

Odd big screen outing aside, Gyllenhaal has built his career on TV directing — episodes, and TV movies. And that’s how “So B. It” plays —  a film of pre-digested emotions, close-ups (TV loves close-ups) and yawn-inspiring revelations — small-screen melodrama.

Landing Jacinda Barrett, an Oscar winner (Cloris Leachman shines as a fellow bus passenger), the late John Heard (good value to the very end) and the Oscar-nominated Woodard speaks to his reputation.

 

But while there might be a movie in this material, the muted performances, muffled emotions and simple lack of dramatic sparks or surprises wastes the talents of one and all.

Young Miss Bateman never makes Heidi empathetic enough to warm up to. And as she is in most every scene, and narrating the story which skips back and forth — from the bus to the recent past, and then to the end of the trip — that hobbles the picture.

So, “Lifetime Original Movie,” here we come.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some thematic elements

Cast: Talitha Eliana BatemanAlfre Woodard, John Heard, Jacinda Barrett, Jessica Collins, Cloris Leachman

Credits: Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal, script by Garry Williams, based on a novel by  Sarah Weeks. A Branded release.

Running time: 1:37

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