Thursday, April 16, 2015

Funny Movie Churches -- Raising Helen (2004)

"A Sexy Man of God"

Sure, this thing is called Movie Churches, but we do stretch sometimes and talk about Movie Clergy. I guess there is a church in this film, but in the film it's only used as part of St. Barnabas Lutheran School, of which Pastor Dan Parker is the principal. Unlike the Catholic priests in so many of the churches we look at here, Pastor Dan is the love interest for the title character in "Raising Helen."

Kate Hudson stars as Helen (of course), a rising young executive at a modeling agency. Her sister and brother-in-law are killed in a car wreck, and Helen is left with their children (nothing gets a romantic comedy moving like vehicular death leaving behind some orphans). Helen moves the kids to New York City, where she discovers the sad state of the public schools. She then happens upon St. Barnabas (which is often called "St. Barbara's" in the film for reasons I never discerned).

Helen and the kids meet with the school principal. Helen, under the impression that the school is only for Lutherans, assures Pastor Dan that, "Lutheranism has been in our family for a long time. We all want to be Lutherans, right kids? Lutheran education is the best, right, Father?"

Comic hijinks ensue as Pastor Dan explains he's not a Father but a Pastor. Pastor Dan jokes that Helen and the kids (Audrey, Henry and Sarah) will need to take a blood test for Lutheranism, a joke Helen takes seriously. She says the kids are hemophiliacs and can't take the the blood test. Pastor Dan reminds Helen they're in Queens and couldn't possibly keep a school going with just Lutherans.

As Pastor Dan is giving them a tour of the school, Henry asks about the Lutheran position on the afterlife, do you believe in "heaven, hell and purgatory?" Pastor Dan says, "Yes, we're pretty old school that way." It's kind of a funny response, but Lutherans aren't Purgatorians. And Henry has just lost his parents and really does have serious questions about the afterlife, but Pastor Dan never digs more deeply into the subject with the kid.

I do appreciate Pastor Dan's sense of humor and ease with newcomers; they're good pastoral qualities. But then we get into the dating life of Pastor Dan; because Pastor Dan is interested in Helen.

Pastor Dan invites Helen and the kids to come to the zoo where he's doing a "Blessing of the Animals" (and a rather pedestrian blessing it is). After the tour (accompanied by Simon and Garfunkel's "At the Zoo"), Pastor Dan asks Helen out.

She at first refuses, because it's "weird" to date a pastor. She tells him she won't be responsible for taking him away from God and his "vows". Pastor Dan explains that Lutheran pastors can marry, have kids and watch dirty movies. ("Well, not watch dirty movies, but we're working on that.")

Pastor Dan seems like a good guy, but neither he nor anyone else seems to figure out that there are more problems with his dating Helen than the straw man that pastors, like Roman Catholic priests, shouldn't date. Here are some things Pastor Dan and Helen don't seem to think about:
1)      Helen probably should be concentrating on taking care of the kids rather than her dating life.
2)      The principal a school should probably be quite cautious about dating the parents of students, particularly parents or guardians of new students.
3)      The religious background and spiritual life of a person a pastor dates does matter. Helen lies to Pastor Dan about being a Lutheran, but never tells him what she believes about God, faith or Jesus. He does say he has had problems dating women who are intimidated or put off by his being a pastor. But it seems like he would want to be with someone who would understand and support his ministry. After all, the world of ministry can be even more all-consuming than the world of modeling.
4)      The actor playing Pastor Dan, John Corbett, was born the same year I was, 1961. The actress playing Helen, Kate Hudson, was born in the year Corbett probably graduated from high school, 1979. The internet rule to avoid creepy dating is to divide your age in half and add seven. The other person should be at least that age. By that measure, their relationship is creepy, but not Gary Cooper/ Audrey Hepburn creepy. One begins to wonder why this charming, good looking pastor is single in his forties.
5)      Pastor Dan and Helen get caught smooching by the kids. This happens just after Pastor Dan describes himself as "a sexy man of God".

I was a big fan of the TV show "Northern Exposure". On that show, Corbett played the local DJ. I think I'd rather have Corbett as my DJ rather than as my pastor. If he pastors a church like he runs a school, Pastor Dan's church would probably get a thumbs down from me.
-- Dean