Because real life can often be so topsy-turvy, I love movies that find their basis in the messiness and insanity and pain and joy of true stories. Such is the case for Same Kind of Different As Me, opening nationwide this weekend. Based on the New York Times bestseller by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, the film has taken some critical heat but promises to be popular with audiences who are looking for films that inspire, uplift and urge goodness.
Ron Hall (Greg Kinnear) is a wealthy international art dealer married to Deborah Hall (Renée Zellweger). We learn early on that while Ron may have all the trappings of a happy life, his marriage is on the rocks. When Deborah discovers that he has been unfaithful in their marriage, she decides to extend mercy. Ron, committed to doing what it takes to win back her trust, finds himself involved in one of Deborah’s pet projects. When he serves at a community shelter for the first time, Ron encounters Denver (Djimon Hounsou), an angry and erratic homeless man with a troubled past that seems ready to boil over in violence.
Following the path of a growing friendship between Denver and Ron, we witness much of the brokenness and pain that has led the two men to their present states. It’s tempting in a film such as this one to focus on Denver’s plight of modern-day slavery, incarceration, and social isolation living on the streets. But in Ron’s character, we also discover the relational pains and abandonment that have led him to a place of intolerance and judgmentalism. As the woman who forges a bond between these two unlikely companions, Deborah–who must face her own battle–urges them, and us, toward mercy and love. Deborah reminds us that money isn’t always the answer to this world’s most frustrating problems. Instead, companionship and true presence are key.
Some will think this film is too “sweet” in its message delivery. I differ. The epic combination of Kinnear and Zellweger is counterbalanced by the powerful querulousness of Hounsou. Flashbacks into Denver’s young life as an enslaved cotton-picker are juxtaposed with Ron’s ongoing battles with his alcoholic father (Jon Voight). I found myself coming to the conclusion that the “saving” being done in these two men’s relationship is truly mutual.
The odd words of the title Same Kind of Different as Me are delivered by Denver in a poignant moment at the end of the film that I don’t want to spoil. But I’ll ask you to watch for them and to remember afterward how you feel as you hear them. As one living in Los Angeles where I daily encounter unhoused persons, those words have been ringing in my ears. Too often, we look at those living on the streets and assume that they are too frightening to approach or too far gone to help. What can we possibly do to stem the tide of addiction, mental illness and societal brokenness that has left our cities with such tragedy? Is there anything one person can do to help, or is the whole situation hopeless?
One great thing about this film is that it’s accompanied by the “Make A Difference” campaign. On the film’s website, there are campaign resources including a list of simple “acts of kindness” that we can undertake to serve those in need. If you’re like me, you’ll find it impossible not to proactively reach out after seeing this film, so a great place to start along with the movie’s website is at the national website of Catholic Charities USA, where you can easily join the mission of serving those most in need in your community.
Same Kind of Difference is the most effective kind of love story–one that reminds us of Christ’s ongoing commission to us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. See it this weekend, and emerge ready to see your own common bonds with those around you with new eyes.
Copyright 2017 Lisa M. Hendey