We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
In an opening scene of "Wide Awake" the fifth-grade kids in Catholic school have a spirited discussion about whether the unbaptized can get into heaven. This rang a bell. Morning religion class in my grade school was much the same; the nuns tried to teach us principles, and we were always getting sidetracked on technicalities.
When "Wide Awake" observes moments such as those in the classroom, it's an entertaining film. I liked, for example, Rosie O'Donnell's performance as Sister Terry, a Philadelphia Phillies fan, and was reminded of my own teacher, Sister Marie Donald, who was also our school basketball coach. A film accurately remembering Catholic school in the pre-Vatican II era could be a charmer.
But the movie has higher and, I'm afraid, more contrived goals. Its hero is young Joshua (Joseph Cross), who has been depressed ever since his beloved grandfather (Robert Loggia) died of bone marrow cancer. He mopes about his granddad's room, he doesn't want to get up for school, he is the despair of his parents (Dana Delany and Denis Leary) and annoys his sister (Julia Stiles). Finally he announces to his best friend, Dave (Timothy Reifsnyder) that he's going on a mission to find out if his grandfather is OK.
His mission, which occupies much of the movie, involves Joshua's demand for a sign from heaven. Along the way, he also sneaks into a girl's school to cross-examine a cardinal and holds a photo of the pope hostage in the rain.