Eddie Murphy hits Oscar note in ‘Mr. Church’

HOLLYWOOD, CA-Not too many people can command a screen quite the way Eddie Murphy does it. The magnetic presence of Murphy cannot be understated in the new drama, “Mr. Church.”

He is such a powerful force on the silver screen, you kind of watch and interpret every wink, every nod and every nuanced gesture that Murphy makes in the heartwarming friendship film.

Playing the role of Henry Joseph Church, a cook, confidant, friend and mysterious night figurine, Murphy gives us a taste of the incredible versatility he’s been blessed with that has allowed movie watchers to cling to hits like “48 Hours,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Dr. Doolittle,” “Daddy Day Care” and “Dreamgirls.”

The wisecracking humor we’re used to seeing from Murphy is alive and well, but in “Mr. Church,” it takes a backseat to the humanity of Church, who both personifies the perfect gentleman and prudent staff worker and a man wrestling with reconciling demons of his past.

It is a delicate balance that Murphy is able to master much the same way he took the comedic and cinematography world by storm in the 198os. It’s a bit of a cliche to say this, but like fine wine Murphy seems to get better and better as a thespian as he moves up in the age bracket. But you wouldn’t know it if you saw him.

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Actor and comedian Eddie Murphy (center) attends the premiere of his latest project, “Mr. Church.” With Murphy is Paige Butcher (left) and one his sons on the red carpet. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Appearing at the red carpet premiere of  “Mr. Church,” interlocked in hands with the lovely Paige Butcher, Murphy looks as if he hasn’t aged a bit. The guy still looks like he’s 29, and still looks like he’s having a lot of fun. The only thing that could give Murphy’s age away is the beautiful lot of grown children he has that strolled the red carpet with him.

The good thing that works for Murphy in “Mr. Church,” based on a true story, is that his undeniable charm brings an element to the film that makes it more than just another feel-good movie. Outside of watching films where explosions take place every two minutes or some superhero in tights come to save the day or your routine shoot’em up plot, it’s good every now and then to see a movie that focuses on people living their every day lives.

“Mr. Church,” which opens Sept. 16, is one of those movies. This is refreshing. It is good to know there are films out there that is suitable to watch for just about everyone, including my 12-year-old daughter.

Told through the adolescent, teenager and grown woman eyes of Charlotte (Britt Robertson), the gist of the film is about a stranger (Murphy) entering and becoming fixated in the lives of a dying mother and her daughter.

Originally, Henry Church invades the lives of Charlotte and Marie (Natascha McElhone) on a six-month assignment from the mother’s ex-lover to cater to her and her daughter as a hired cook and do-everything employee. That interim placement of easy cash flow turned out to be a lifetime of celebration, hurt and friendship for the methodically cool Church.

Church is so cool that for a minute you think that Murphy is reliving out his inner “Shaft” with the stylish fedora and don’t-mess-with-me jacket he wears throughout the movie. That tough guy outward demeanor gives way to a melted heart when it comes to Church taking care of Marie and Charlotte.

It is an unexpected and long hiccup for Church, who finds himself drawn into unwittingly compassion for Charlotte (Charlie) and Marie. Aside from serving up tasty meals for the mother and daughter team, Church brings a sense of calm and tranquility to the single-parent household with his affinity for jazz music and love for books.

Six months turn into years, and before he knows it, Church is engaged in prom activities with Charlotte, caves in to a requested last dance by Marie and welcomes back his surrogate daughter after she gets pregnant while in college. The storyline of the film, written by Susan McMartin, is much more complicated than that, though.

While he is set in place as an endearing man to Charlotte and Marie, Church remains an enigmatic figure after dark, choosing to not allow neither Charlotte nor Marie into his private world. It is a world that re-visits his haunting past that gives the film a sedated and unique look into childhood abuse.

Actress Lucy Fry, seen here on the red carpet, is one of the co-stars in "Mr. Church." Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline
Actress Lucy Fry, seen here on the red carpet, is one of the co-stars in “Mr. Church.” Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Murphy turns the role of Henry Church on its head, giving us a preferred look at the soul of a person instead of viewing people just in their occupational positions. It is a reminder that it is the everyday, working Joe that makes us all great, makes our communities vibrant.

The movie also does something quite extraordinary: it makes us think about all of the things we can accomplish in our daily lives if we allow ourselves to put down our iPhones, tablets for a minute and shelve TV time to the backburner.

As we discover with Henry Church, who doesn’t even have a clue what Apple Jacks cereal is, life can be so much more meaningful and productive when we find other avenues to occupy our time than an all-day avalanche of television watch and Internet surfing.

Ten years ago, Eddie Murphy starred in the role of a lifetime when he starred in “Dreamgirls” as Jimmy “Thunder” Early. He was even nominated for an Academy Award for his larger-than-life character in the film. He may have surpassed that with the work he puts forth in “Mr. Church.”

But while he dominates one scene after another in the movie, Murphy has some solid backup in “Mr. Church.” McElhone delivers her role as Marie with aplomb acumen. Lucy Fry adds funny flavor to the movie with her quick-witted humor as Charlotte’s best friend, Poppy.

Of course, Robertson gives the film added credence as Charlotte, who becomes drawn to Church’s strange but sentimental ways of affection. The unique bonding between the two makes the project more than a worthwhile film to watch. It is an experience worth exploring.

Murphy is a big reason why. And maybe, when awards season come around, perhaps the Academy Awards will do the right thing and do a make up call and hand Murphy the Oscar he very much deserves.

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1093 Articles
Dennis covers the NFL (San Diego Chargers), NBA (Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers), Major League Baseball (Los Angeles Dodgers) and NCAA sports (USC, UCLA, Long Beach State). As a professional journalist, Dennis has also covered and written on topics such as civil rights, politics and social justice. Dennis is a graduate of Howard University.