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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

A Thousand Words

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Allison Janney and Eddie Murphy star in a scene from the movie "A Thousand Words."
Silence may indeed be golden. But the comedy "A Thousand Words" (DreamWorks) — which lumbers forth from an elaborate premise whereby a fast-talking literary agent must learn to hold his peace or kick the bucket — turns out to be about 90 minutes worth of barely alloyed lead.

Eddie Murphy plays slickster Jack McCall, whose career marketing manuscripts brings him into contact with nice-guy guru and author Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis). Jack's habitual insincerity, however, soon puts him on Sinja's (and, so we're meant to infer, the cosmos') bad side and he finds himself cursed.

According to the terms of the jinx, each word Jack speaks causes a leaf to fall from a tree that has magically sprouted in his backyard. Once the branches are bare, he'll die. By the time Jack figures all of that out — and the audience, though wearied, is well ahead of him on this — he has only the titular amount of vocabulary left.

Jack's sudden reticence stymies not only his career (Clark Duke plays his beleaguered office assistant Aaron) but his heretofore happy marriage to wife Caroline (Kerry Washington) as well.

There's mugging galore, but little hilarity in director Brian Robbins' barren comedy. And, when screenwriter Steve Koren's script turns serious about two-thirds of the way through, it mixes fruitful messages about marital fidelity and the importance of family life with shady New Age-style spirituality.

Thus, Jack's desperate efforts to become charitable, which see him tossing baguettes of French bread to Skid Row hobos and donating his expensive watch to fund-raising nuns, only to take it back again, gain him nothing. But reaching out to Caroline and to his Alzheimer's-afflicted mom (Ruby Dee) and resolving his long-standing emotional impasse with his deceased father, taken together, do — so to speak — the trick.

Along the way, Sinja offers some gobbledygook guidance, and Caroline dons leather to "spice up" — and save — her marriage. Though she briefly handcuffs Jack, it's the folks in the audience who may feel shackled by these flimsy proceedings.

The film contains mature content, including scenes of aberrant sensuality within marriage, a few uses of profanity, considerable crude and crass language and an obscene gesture. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.



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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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