I Am David (review)

Writer/director Paul Feig, the Emmy-nominated creator of TV’s Freaks and Geeks, brings us a different kind of outcast kid in David, a 12-year-old orphan escapee from a post-WWII Bulgarian labor camp journeying across Europe alone. In the best tradition of old-fashioned family films — the kind without fart jokes and precocious gradeschoolers, the kind that can be truly enjoyed and appreciated by grownups and children alike — David’s story, based on the beloved young-adult novel by Anne Holm, is by turns intensely scary and warmly poignant, and is sure to prompt family discussions about hard, necessary issues such as the human capacities for committing evil and clinging to hope, and the pull kids on the edge of adolescence feel between relying on Mom and Dad and striking off on their own. Relative newcomer Ben Tibber is a wonder as David, demonstrating a maturity and a thoughtfulness well beyond his years, stunningly engrossing as a profoundly solemn child with no experience of life outside the camp and no knowledge of how to trust anyone (except, perhaps, the memory of his camp guardian, Johannes, played in brief flashbacks by a pre-Passion of the Christ Jim Caviezel). From the cautious hopefulness of his early, tentative attempts to join the world, Tibber’s David blossoms when he encounters Sophie, a Swiss painter (the always lovely Joan Plowright: Bringing Down the House), and her grandmotherly attentions finally break down his defenses. By that time, David will have totally wormed his way into your heart, too.

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