THE film Same Kind of Different as Me (Cert. 12), now released on DVD, tells the true story of Ron Hall (Greg Kinnear, As Good as it Gets) and his wife, Debbie (Renée Zellweger, Bridget Jones’s Diary), whose relationship is severely tested.
The couple’s alienation is depicted through freeze frames reminiscent of Edward Hopper paintings, one of which later appears in the film. It is a visual acknowledgement of Ron’s occupation as an art dealer before making it clear that Debbie’s Christianity is what saves them — or, to be precise, her work at the Union Gospel Mission.
Enlisting a reluctant husband to assist in feeding (mainly black) homeless people brings about many changes in him — most of all, through his encounter with Denver Moore (Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond), a violently angry man whom he befriends.
The film only just avoids portraying a society in which condescending whites offer handouts to salve their consciences for being so affluent. This is largely due to Zellweger’s convincing expression of love for the loveless. As Moore says, it is the start of a process whereby people are no longer deemed invisible.
The film is compassionate about the poor, but (unlike the real-life Hall and Moore) it never really challenges the reasons for their poverty. Michael Carney, the son of a Christian minister, making his debut as a director, tries hard not to make a schmaltzy gospel movie. So, when we are shown situations that would usually be tear-jerking, there isn’t a moist eye to be seen. Hall rails against a God who allows bad things to happen to good people, but this is never subsequently addressed.
Denver turns out to be the guiding star. More sinned against than sinning, he exudes a Christ-like wisdom. God, he declares, is in the recycling business, turning trash into treasure. The film is in danger of doing the opposite, transforming potentially lovely people into stereotypes. This is despite Moore’s observation — one that, if further developed by the film, could have lifted it out of banality — that we are all homeless, just working our way back home.
When Ron takes him to see one of Picasso’s Weeping Woman paintings, he comments: “You can see what she’s really like from the inside, not the outside.” I wish that Same Kind of Different as Me had been more successful in doing this with its characters. Goodness is notoriously more difficult to pull off on screen than badness; such characters are often soppy or unbelievable. Kinnear, Zellweger, and Hounsou are too highly skilled actors for that to happen, but the narrative rarely goes beyond replicating the real-life events related in the bestseller on which the film is based.
Something is missing. Unlike Picasso, we never gain insight into the characters’ interior lives, and what sets their souls alight, and the film fails to be the inspiring tale that is intended to be. Indeed, it is all too obvious that this is a Christian film made with the aim of evangelising. It has been released by Pure Flix, the company that is promoting the God’s Not Dead series and the forthcoming Samson. Same Kind of Different as Me is less a movie, more a message from its Christian sponsors.