Dir/scr:Michael McGowan. Canada. 2004. 98mins

Thebroad strokes of Saint Ralph (the last production from AllianceAtlantis' production arm) suggest an absurdist comedy. The title character, agangly 14-year-old attending a Catholic school, decides to run and win theBoston Marathon and in so doing create the sort of miracle that will bring hismother - hospitalised with cancer - out of a coma.

Infact, the picture deftly provides its outrageous elements with a warmth andhumanity more reminiscent of underdog tales such as Rocky and Rudyand has the stamina and heart to round out the three Rs. Exquisitely realisedin all respects, Saint Ralph has goldmedal potential.

Setin the industrial town of Hamilton in 1953, Ralph Walker (Adam Butcher) is thesquare peg in the round hole at Saint Magnus School. His independent nature andfacile mind are both key to his resolve and the very thing most of the teachingfathers want to drum out of him. Outside class he religiously visits his motherand maintains the illusion of being cared for by grandparents long absent fromthis mortal coil.

Aspunishment for being a teenager discovering his sexuality, Ralph is put intothe forced labour camp known as cross country running. At about the same timehis mother lapses into coma and the young man begins to struggle with the factthere's nothing he can do to bring her back to consciousness.

However,his Catholic education is rife with miraculous events and he begins to grillhis teachers about how they occur and who can make them happen. When FatherHibbert (Campbell Scott) uses the example of the boy winning the Boston race assomething that would be miraculous his path is set and no amount of suasionwill alter his course.

Writer-directorMichael McGowan in his feature debut clears the prime hurdle involved in thistype of yarn: he makes you believe that through tireless training, will andfaith and despite ridiculous odds and logic, Ralph can still be a contender. Itseems all the more real because of the humour and pain of approaching adulthoodand the rigid environment of church schools where individuality is some sort ofsin.

AsRalph, Adam Butcher is some sort of miracle himself. The contradictions ofyouth are perfectly embodied in an astonishingly truthful performance. There'salso standout work from Scott who winds up in a mentoring role and Tamra Hopeas the lad's first infatuation. The era is handsomely recalled and recreatedand only the inclusion of some contemporary songs chafes in the mix.

In1954, Finn Veikko Karvonen crossed the wire first in the real Boston Marathon.But this is the movies and by the time the film hits mile 23 it's hard toimagine anyone not giving it up for the youthful protagonist. Saint Ralph workshard and honestly for emotional involvement and is unrepentant in creating anunabashedly uplifting saga aimed straight for the heart.

Prodcos: AmazeFilm, Alliance Atlantis
Int'l sales:
Wm Morris Independent
Can dist:
SeatonMcLean, Andrea Mann, Michael Souther, Teza Lawrence
Prod des:
Main cast:
AdamButcher, Campbell Scott, Gordon Pinsent, Jennifer Tilly, Shauna MacDonald,Tamra Hope