Dwarfism is, in itself, arguably the surest sign we have for an unloving, merciless god. To afflict any human being with a litany of curses – from the puffy chest, to the sausage-like fingers, to the unmistakable teetering walk of a Weeble – cannot be explained away, even by an entire seminary of theologians. As an atheist and strict believer in some of the more vicious elements of Social Darwinism, I am left with the notion that these people (a term used loosely, but necessary for the sake of argument) are with us today only out a sentimental attachment to the inherent worth of human life, or perhaps the continued demand for freak shows and circus attractions. So, they are with us, which in itself wouldn’t be that bad if they knew their place (and we overturned silly laws preventing dwarf tossing) and did not insist that not only were they equal, but actually better than those of us who can get excited without looking like an orgasmic raptor. I speak of the “arrogant midget,” the pint-sized Hitler who puffs and struts as if his very freakishness were sexy or worthy of our admiration. They bully us with their narcissism and insistence on terms such as “little people” and “wee men.” Fuck it. Midgets ye shall be, and midgets ye shall remain, no matter how many times a film like Simon Birch comes down the line.

Simon Birch. I saw this cinematic monstrosity several years ago (in the theater, proving I have always been a masochist at heart), and it has never left me, either in thought or emotion. Take Ian Michael Smith as Simon, easily the most offensive creature to grace the screen since Freaks left theaters. At least Billy Barty and Michael Dunn had charm (and talent); this little fecal stool is all bluff and bluster passing as acting. Oh, but isn’t he cute? I would answer in the negative with a certainty usually reserved for my unyielding attachment to a godless universe, but even if he were, that does not excuse his obnoxious behavior. He kisses girls, disrupts church with inane questions, and always, ALWAYS has to be the center of attention. I suppose it is understandable to be acting out, given that he is on the verge of puberty and knows that his cocktail pickle of a penis will never see anything except the inside of his deformed hand, but I simply would not tolerate the implicit theme of this film – he is a dwarf, hence lovable, and must be forgiven for everything he does. Message rejected.

In the middle of this mess, there is Simon’s friend (who is narrating in later days) who longs for a father figure, a Christmas pageant to be performed, and Ashley Judd as an object of Simon’s misplaced lust, who is killed most ridiculously when Simon manages to hit a baseball that smacks the poor woman in the head. It is one of the surest signs of a screenplay’s desperation when we are asked to believe that this fucked up puppet could muster enough energy to hit a baseball with such force, let alone make contact. Of course, there are scenes of male bonding around the old swimming hole, and all the while we are expected to cry our little hearts out at the injustice of the world. My eyes stayed dry, believe me.

In a move as predictable as anything ever contrived, Simon is given the opportunity to become a hero after a bus with screaming orphans plows into a river (oh Christ, think of the comic possibilities!) Most of the kids escape to safety (drat), but only little Simon can save the one boy who is too afraid to swim ashore. Why? Because only Simon, you see, is small enough to crawl through a window and free the frightened youngster. As Simon believes, he was made small for a reason, thus implicating God in his deformity. His affliction allowed him to save a life, thus making the hours of teasing and stones hurled his way worthwhile. Yet, Simon does not survive the incident. Hauled out and sent to a hospital, he dies as a good martyr should, full of banal wisdom and self-righteous piety. Not since the death of Christ has there been one so brave.

As the film ends, we see that the narrator was Jim Carrey, making an appearance that could only have been motivated by naked, unforgivable greed. Carrey informs us that he “Thanks God” for having met Simon, for it appears that the runt changed his life forever. Given that I’d rather meet a horrific end than admit that some half-human saved my life, I do not understand Carrey’s love and devotion. I hated the little bugger, hated him so much that I was purple with rage at how easy he got off. A quiet death bed scene in some hospital? What happened to the promised gunfire raking across his malformed chest? Or the wild dogs that would tear him apart like some tattered scarecrow? Or the embittered exile from a town that couldn’t stand his shit any longer, topped by a messy suicide? Hell, that Tattoo guy had the decency to put a shotgun to his pumpkin. Or was it the chest?

So don’t lecture me at the movies. Don’t bully me into loving my fellow man, and don’t present a parade of undesirables and expect “We Are the World.” And did I mention that this hunk of garbage was on Gene Siskel’s final year-end Top Ten list? I can forgive quite a bit when you’re dying, but not this. Poor, poor Gene. The sap.

Ruthless Ratings:

  • Overall: 1
  • Acting: 2
  • Directing: 1
  • DVD Extras: There might be commentary, but who really gives a shit?
  • Re-watchability: 7 (I saw it twice – once in the theater and once on video – so there must be something to this thing).
About Matt

Matt is the site’s Longest Serving Critic and chief misanthrope. He divides his time between classics of cinema and the most ridiculous movies he can find on Redbox.
Follow Matt: @mattcale52