Where Hope Grows is a sometimes moving and generally watchable melodrama about a drunken ex-ballplayer who finds purpose and a friend back in his home town.
But unlike most faith-based films, it isn’t a church that saves him, a pastor or devout Christian who shows him the way. It’s a teen with Down syndrome.
The kid’s nicknamed Produce, thanks to his job at the local supermarket. That’s where Calvin Campbell (Kristoffer Polaha) stumbles into him. Calvin’s a single-dad whose teen daughter (McKaley Miller) is making bad choices, but he’s typically too tipsy to notice. He’s adrift, bitter about his lost career, refusing to look for a new one.
And then he creates a “Cleanup on aisle three.”
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“I just trampled on one of your vegetables,” he tells the kid.
“A tomato is a fruit,” Produce corrects him.
Produce is in the habit of hugging people he’s just met. And Calvin is struck by Produce’s in-the-moment optimism.
“I’m doing good. Even when I’m doing bad, I’m doing good.”
Calvin lets himself befriend Produce, and even though he resists the kid’s invitations to church, his always positive attitude starts to rub off.
And some of Calvin’s edge rubs off with it.
Where Hope Grows is straight melodrama, with daughter Katie’s jerk boyfriend (Michael Grant) nagging her about sex, Calvin pondering whether to get into AA (twelve step meetings are the movies’ easiest lump in the throat moment) and Produce straining to show “how smart” he is, and his true worth.
It’s all fairly routine, even if there’s a moment of violence, a hint of profanity, a little drinking and an unfaithful wife (Danica McKellar of The Wonder Years the biggest name in the cast). But it works, here and there, and Polaha is perfectly believable as an ex-jock and ex-jerk who lets a little child lead him out of the darkness.
Where Hope Grows
Director: Chris Dowling
Cast: Kristoffer Polaha, David DeSanctis, McKaley Miller, Michael Grant, Danica McKellar
Rated: PG-13 (thematic issues involving drinking and teen sexuality, and for brief mild language and an accident scene)
Running time: 95 min.