Sunday, June 14, 2009
Imagine That -- listening, leading, liking your kids
Director: Karey Kirkpatrick, 2009.
"I want my goo-gah!" exclaims a wild and upset Eddie Murphy as he is forcibly ejected from a plush Denver home. Thus opens Imagine That. So what is a "goo-gah"? And why does he want it so badly? The movie goes back in time one week to answer these questions.
Murphy stars as Evan, a successful fund manager at the top of his game. This is more than can be said for Murphy himself, who overacts and generally hams it up. This film is merely a vehicle for Murphy's brand of physical humor from a director whose only other film was Over the Hedge; not exactly a stellar pedigree.
Evan is a single father and an unsuccessful one. He has no time for his grade-school daughter Olivia (Yara Shahidi). When she stays with him in his bachelor pad, she is simply in the way. She comes into his office late one night with her blankie as he is discussing funds and she overhears him. He tells her it is OK as long as she is quiet, but when she starts talking to her imaginary friends under her blanket, he says "You don't listen." Yet when she is giving him trading insights from these "friends" he is the one not listening.
When the owner of the firm decides to sell out, Evan is in line for the crown. But Johnny Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church) is his opponent, an unconventional Native Indian who wins accounts with mumbo-jumbo advice that somehow connects to the clients. Going head-to-head these financial gurus must win over the boss, who is listening to their recommendations.
Listening is one of the themes of Imagine That. Who is listening to whom? Evan is not listening to Olivia. But Olivia is listening to him, and she listens to her imaginary friends. Listening is an art and a gift. To listen, to really listen, is to give undivided attention to the speaker. It is to set aside our internal thoughts, to refuse to focus on our next response, and to seek to truly understand what is being said. In doing so we are giving them the gift of our time. James said, "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak. . . " (Jas. 1:19). A wag commented that God gave us two ears and one tongue so we can listen twice as long as we talk.
As a father, Evan is a washout. He cannot relate to Olivia and he doesn't really want to. We wonder whatever prompted him to become a parent in the first place, but that is never answered. He pleads with his daughter constantly, asking her to be quiet, to go to bed, to stop screaming (which she does whenever someone takes her security blanket away). But parents are supposed to lead their kids not plead with them. He has no parental control; he exercises no parental leadership.
Leading is another theme that emerges from this comedy. As a parent, Imagine That causes me to look at my own parenting style. Am I following the example foisted on me by Hollywood? Am I being conformed by these pressures to become a weak and pitiful father, one often mocked and ridiculed today? Or am I listening to the leading of the Spirit of God? He gives us careful advice, especially in the Old Testament. The great Shema in Deut 6:4 ("Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one") is followed by the greatest commandment ("Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength") and then the key command to fathers: "Impress them [these commandments] on your children" (Deut. 6:7). Moreover, Solomon tells fathers to take an active role in leading their children: "Train up a child in the way he should go" (Prov. 22:6). Fatherhood requires leadership. To abdicate this is to give up on parenting.
That brings us to the security blanket. This is the "goo-gah." And when Evan discovers that Olivia's imaginary friends are giving him advice that is better than insider trading, though certainly stranger, he wants more. But the only way into her secret world is with the help of this blanket. (The fact that she has need of these imaginary friends is patently due to parental problems, but that is beyond the point of the film or this blog.) This is his magic carpet ride into the kingdom of financial success.
One of the funniest scenes has Olivia showing Evan how to enter this secret kingdom, navigating past the lurking dragon, to meet her friends. As Evan sings in a higher and higher voice until his falsetto almost hurts, we see Olivia drawing closer to her dad emotionally. Even though his motive was to get to the "magic fortune-tellers," father and daughter are spending time together and she is having fun.
And this brings us to the third theme inherent in the movie: linking and liking. The imaginary journey into this secret kingdom becomes an emotional journey leading to familial linking. Eventually and predictably Evan realizes that he likes Olivia. He has come on his own journey of discovery and found himself and his daughter.
Even with wrong motives Evan's actions lead to positive results. This is often true. Two millennia ago, the apostle Paul pointed out "that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. . . . But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached." (Phil. 1:15, 18). The wrong motives led to Christ's proclamation. Good resulted. Sometimes the motives morph along the way, as they did for Evan, until the wrong motives become the right motives.
Imagine That is funny in spots and is fun for families, being reasonably wholesome -- imagine that from Hollywood. If it brings fathers and daughters together, as it did for me, to enjoy some family fun together, it is probably worth watching. We need to spend fun time with our kids!
Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs
at 7:00 AM