BURTON SISTER ACT HITS HOMER WITH
by Michael Moore
**** 3 1/2 stars ****
Could "Manna from Heaven" really be this
year's "My Big Fat Greek Wedding?" -- one of the most
popular independent films ever made.
Even "Manna's" producers acknowledge that
the stars would have to align just right for their film to hit as
big as "Big Fat Greek Wedding," but "Manna"
is certainly a touching movie with a well-written script that is
sure to keep audiences' attention. Like "Big Fat Greek Wedding,"
"Manna" is a stark contrast from some of Hollywood's worst
big budget films with thin story lines and awful acting. But, with
no advertising, the problem will be getting people to the theaters
to see it.
"Manna" is a truly independent film produced
by the Burton family of Buffalo's Five Sisters Productions. The
family's matriarch, Gabrielle B. Burton, wrote the script; a daughter,
Gabrielle C. of Liberty Township, co-directed the film [with her
sister Maria] and three of the Burton sisters have parts in the
movie. The film's characters are rich and interesting and the plot
keeps moves you along to an expected ending that comes in an unexpected
Like "Big Fat Greek Wedding," "Manna"
is a feel-good story that will have audiences leaving the theater
with a smile on their face and a hope in their heart. But, unlike
"Big Fat Greek Wedding," "Manna" didn't have
a multi-million advertising budget on which to draw in audiences.
Starting in August, the Burton family has traveled with the film
from city to city, spreading the word in person at each opening.
"Manna from Heaven" opens today at the Delaware
Square Theater where it will be playing throughout next week. And
the Burton family will be there.
Set in the mid 1960s, the movie's plot revolves around
the nun Theresa (Ursula Burton), whose friends and family always
believed was touched by God. When a truck load of $20 bills falls
from the sky, the clan uses a young, saintly Theresa's blessing
that it is "a gift from God" to fulfill their own selfish
Years later, and long after all the money has been
spent, Theresa's conscience gets the best of her in the form of
visions spelled out in a bowl of holy water. The message: The money
has to be repaid.
Theresa calls the clan back together and what follows
is a comedy of personal interactions as they try to "repay"
the money through a dance contest and a car raffle. The problem
is that none of them really want to give the money back and even
if they did they wouldn't know to whom to give it.
The ensemble cast is accomplished and worked for modest
fees because they liked the script, Gabrielle C. Burton said . Academy
Award winner Shirley Jones ("The Partridge Family") and
Frank Gorshin ("Batman," "12 Monkeys") are a
hilarious husband and wife con team whose life of conniving extends
to a plot to fix the raffle and steal the door money at the dance
contest. Inez (Wendie Malick) is a street-smart Vegas card dealer
that shows a soft side when she falls in love with a Secret Service
agent who's investigating a trail of counterfeit money. "He
knows how to gamble. He knows how to drink. He knows how to smoke.
There's gotta be something wrong with him," Inez says. Jill
Eikenberry ("L.A. Law," "Arthur") is an eternal
optimist whose unending generosity balances out the rest of the
cast. Shelley Duvall, one of the first actors to sign on with "Manna,"
has a cameo role. Cloris Leachman ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show")
is an elderly and invalid "mother" who rediscovers independence
and youth when she tries to win the car raffle.
If nothing else, "Manna from Heaven" gives
people a sense of renewed hope, that people can pull together for
the common good.
The unfortunate thing is that many people won't go
see "Manna" because there's no big promotional budget
to support it. But those people will be missing a gem of a movie
that the big Hollywood studious only wish they could get.
Three and a half stars. Rated PG. 119 minutes.
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