Film Review – Phenomenon

Directed: Jon Turteltaub

Writer: Gerald Di Pego 

Starring: John Travolta, Kyra Sedgwick, Forest Whitaker

Tagline: “Some things in life just can’t be explained”

Trivia: Old town Auburn, California was used for the scenes in town. Most of the businesses are still in operation, and thrive off of the tourism generated by the movie to this day. 

The other night my hubby and me were looking for something to watch that would answer both our needs and we stumbled on this movie. I’ve never heard of this movie before and though it was an “oldie” (from last century – 1996) we decided to give it a chance.

I was happy we did. The movie, though a bit too long, had a fantastic inspiring message, great acting of John Travolta (in an uncharacteristic role), Robert Duval and Forest Whitaker.

It’s a movie that makes you think and wonder about the questions it carries even after “The End“ appears on the screen. Isn’t that a good reason to watch a movie?

John Travolta is George Malley, a friendly garage mechanic, of average intelligence, well liked in his small California town. On his 37th birthday he is struck by a weird light from the sky and discovers that suddenly he becomes super intelligent. He suddenly has a hunger for learning and discovering new things.

Suddenly he has stopped being the George people know. People start looking at him strangely because people do not like the unexpected. They want George to continue being George, no more, no less, so that he continues to fill the same predictable place in their lives.

A brilliant new George, winning at chess, predicting earthquakes, picking up strange vibes, is disturbing. It means that there is more to who each one of them can be and that scares people.

The only people in town who can easily accept the new George are Doc (Robert Duvall), who considers him like a son, and believes in the human potential and how great each person can be.

The other is Nate (Forest Whitaker), George’s best friend, who is an innocent soul and is capable seeing that George has not really changed. With them, George is able to share his enthusiasm for the daily cascade of discoveries.

Phenomenon shares some similarities with the 1968 movie Charly. Although Charly was retarded and George is average, they are both transformed through their blooming intelligence. Those who have seen Charly would know where the movie is going.

The movie’s best lines are given to Robert Duval who sums up the whole concept of the movie when he tells the town’s people that the only reason they fear the New George is that it means that they could change and that they have more potential to their lives and they are just afraid of exploring it.

In an age when stupidity rules and the lowest common dominator is the so called standard to achieve, this praise for education, striving to become better and fulfilling one’s potential is a welcome message.

Though I loved the message, this movie is a great example how a great message is lost when your structure is messy.
There are too many plots and subplots in the movie that distract us from the main message.

The most challenging one is, George’s relationship with his love interest, Lace (Kyra Sedgwick). The whole romance develops so slow you can fall asleep and not miss a beat and when it does pick up you have no clue why and what caused it.

Beside this plot you have other plots that are supposed to complicate George’s situation but none of them is explainable and it feels as if it was thrown into the story for the sake of complications.

Phenomenon could have been a better movie if it had pushed the edges of its story a little harder, and found out things that would be more challenging, or threatening, to George and the world he lives in.

It could have benefited from a better structure and less plots. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about change, acceptance and love, and it rounds those three bases very nicely, even if it never quite hits home.

Verdict 3/5 Stars in my book

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