In recent years, Eddie Murphy has not had a strong career. His last flick A Thousand Words (2012) only grossed 22 million worldwide on a 40 million dollar budget. It’s failure followed other disappointments like Tower Heist (2011), Imagine That (2009), and Meet Dave (2008). His last financial success came with 2007’s Norbit, which grossed 160 million worldwide on a 60 million dollar budget. However, you need to go back to 2006’s Dreamgirls to find his last critical success. The film earned Murphy his first Academy Award nomination, and locked up his first Golden Globe win after four previous nomination.
With a stalling career, any project he agrees to do carries with it anticipation. That’s why when he signed on to Mr. Church, it automatically raised some excitement about the project. The film follows a chef named Henry Church (Eddie Murphy) as he goes to work for a family. As he tells the mom (played by Natascha McElhone), he is there due to an agreement he made with her husband before he died. The film doesn’t really go into much depth on why he agreed to become their chef beyond that. However, we are also told that the mom is dying of cancer, and that Mr. Church only has to care for them until she passes away.
In addition to the mom, we are introduced to the daughter named Charlie (played by Natalie Coughlin). Strangely enough, she is a lot more skeptical about the arrangement than the mother. When she first meets Mr. Church she is dismissive, and not at all interested in having him cook for her. This disinterest continues for quite a while. This is where the film faces its first stumbling block. While it uses Charlie’s animosity towards Mr. Church as a way to develop their bond over time, we are never told why she was so against the idea of having a personal chef in the first place. As other children in the movie makes clear, the prospect of having someone cook delicious food for you three times a day isn’t really something a young child is likely to pass up. So the lack of an explanation for why Charlie is so against it kind of stands out.
She gets used to the idea of having him there though, and they begin to develop a mutual respect for each other. As Charlie grows older (now played by Britt Robertson), the mom eventually passes away. Charlie goes off to college, but comes back to live with Mr. Church after running into some problems at university.
When she lives with him, we gradually begin to learn more about Mr. Church. Their relationship evolves, but never to the extent that’s needed to really give you that emotional pay-off you’ve been waiting for. It’s all fairly superficial, without any real depth. The evolution of their friendship from the beginning lacked any sort of deep-dive into their dynamic, and the film really should’ve given you more during this segment. However, you’re left with a basic understanding of what they think of each other. From that point on, the film unfolds pretty much like a standard family drama. You learn a little bit more about their dynamic later on, and with that revelation Charlie gains additional respect for Mr. Church.
Overall, Mr. Church is a well acted, decently written family drama about love, friendship, and the respect humans have for each other. Robertson and Murphy both shine in their respective roles, with strong turns from the supporting cast as well. Director Bruce Beresford keeps a firm hand over the course of the film, and does a good job bringing Susan McMartin’s script to life. The main fault of the film is its lack of depth into its character dynamics and individual motivations, especially between Charlie and Mr. Church. However, even with this flaw, it still manages to present a deeply touching story that’s well worth watching.