by Richard von Busack
October Baby’s directors Andrew Erwin and his brother Jon, who photographed, co-wrote and produced, were inspired to make this slow and sticky propaganda film by the activism of Gianna Jessen, who claims she was aborted at 7 months via saline solution and survived.
Jessen naturally had terrific health issues, redefined here as some unexplained ‘hip surgery’ Hannah (Rachel Hendrix) once endured. The fictional Hannah is a 19 year old college student collapses with asthma during a student play.
This triggers questions about her background: she learns from her physician father (John Schneider, who played Pa Kent in Smallville) that she was the survivor of an abortion. Thus, Hannah and her childhood friend Jason (Jason Burkey) head to Mobile, Alabama to find out the details. (Not to worry, the film is urgent on the details of their chastity in general and Hannah’s virginity in particular.)
While specific in Alabama backgrounds, of Mobile and the Gulf Coast, October Baby has a polished impersonal interstate-hotel style, devoid of regional color.
The scripts’ attempts to give Hannah some personality fail: she says she shows her crazy side when she plays Scrabble, and we don’t even see her play Scrabble. We do see the old favorite scene of the kooky girl who dives into the water with her clothes on.
Any sympathy we might have for this ultimate case of maternal rejection subsides when we see how Hannah is pushed into everything. She’s a passive character, who does things by other people’s fiat. From Jason, who talks her into the road trip; by a Catholic priest who advises forgiveness (Hannah takes the priestly advice even though she’s a Baptist): ultimately, Hannah is forced to go home and then hits the road a second time because of her father.
In the past I’ve found Schneider in these father-knows-best roles so aggravating, I’ve shouted at the TV. He may have too much personality for these fatherly roles, or maybe he brings on a too-forceful kind of paternal energy. It was sometimes excruciating to watch him on Smallville coming down hard on the gentle, good-hearted Clark, and he’s just as irritatingly too-big and too-trad here: a ‘50s TV sit-com paragon Dad with a shaggy, semi-shaved ‘70s look. It says 2012 on the calendar but Schneider’s Dr. Jacob is the kind of man who feels he has the right to ask his 19 year old daughter’s potential boyfriend what his intentions are.
October Baby doesn’t function as road trip movie or as drama; it’s a pity party for a heroine. This heavily calculated movie, sold in advance to church groups and flogged in the Christian media, is all about guidance for girls too confused to understand their best interest.
Not only are they very rare to begin with, the late-term abortion Hannah would have survived is illegal in Alabama now. Which is immaterial: October Baby isn’t about the wrongness of one specific kind of abortion, it’s about the wrongness of all abortions, even for fetuses with birth defects. There’s a story here also of a brain-damaged would-be abortion who lived also: “The doctor says that there wasn’t much brain activity…but we saw him smile.” Shades of Terry Schiavo. October Baby means, ultimately, to provide the anti-choice movement with a horror story of an aborted baby living to confront its mother and to make her weep with guilt.