SAINT RALPH written and directed by Michael McGowan, with Adam Butcher, Campbell Scott and Gordon Pinsent. 98 minutes. An Odeon release. Opens Friday (April 8). For venues and times, see Movies, page 103. Rating: NNN
In Saint Ralph, Adam Butcher delivers a Genie Award-worthy performance as a hormonally driven Catholic school kid who wants to perform a miracle to cure his sick mom.
But in person, he's just a regular 16-year-old who likes riding his bike and watching horror movies.
"I've always wanted to play a zombie," he says. "It would be awesome to walk to the set with half my jaw missing. Just to see people's reactions."
People are having a different kind of reaction to his preternaturally mature performance in Saint Ralph, Michael McGowan's underdog drama set in 1950s Hamilton, Ontario. Not since little Jamie Bell danced up a storm in Billy Elliot has an adolescent - Butcher was 14 when he made the film - held a screen so confidently.
"I like to think of myself as pretty mature," says Butcher, who's grown between 4 and 6 inches since making the film two years ago.
"I think it comes from the lessons my mom and dad taught me. They gave me lectures about religion and other useful stuff that makes you a better person. I didn't like them before - um, the lessons - but now they're coming in handy."
In the film, which debuted at last year's film fest and has sold around the world, Ralph hears that it would take a miracle to bring his mother out of her coma. So he sets his heart on winning the Boston Marathon, which everyone says would be a miracle. Father Hibbert (Campbell Scott), a former Olympic runner, helps him train, openly defying stern headmaster Father Fitzpatrick (Gordon Pinsent).
"I didn't train at all for the film," says Butcher, adding that he was the fastest kid in his Cambridge elementary school.
"The director, Michael McGowan, came in first in the Detroit marathon. He didn't give me any techniques. I've known how to run since I was" - he puts his hand down low - "this big."
Still, even he wasn't expecting the gruelling shoot for the film's tough-it-out scene.
"It was cold and raining and I was in this muscle shirt and shorts," he recalls. "I think we started at 11 at night and went to 2:30 in the morning. I was freezing. But I think that comes out in the film."
Butcher's got a recurring role in the upcoming Movie Network soap Terminal City, playing the teenage son of a cancer patient, who smokes a lot of weed and has an affair with a 36-year-old woman.
"I think it's going to be broadcast late at night," he says. "It's pretty hardcore. Sex, drugs, alcohol. Racism."
But for now he's enjoying his newfound fame. He just returned from a film fest in France, where he signed his first autographs.
"The chicks in France were amazing," he says. Then, maybe remembering his parents' lessons: "Oh, and the streets are really narrow."
SAINT RALPH (Michael McGowan) Rating: NNN
Michael McGowan's Saint Ralph is a nearly irresistible fable about a horny ninth grade Catholic school student (Adam Butcher) who wants to perform a miracle – namely, win the Boston marathon – to cure his sick mom.
Writer/director McGowan shows lots of restraint, although Gordon Pinsent's crusty headmaster comes awfully close to being a Road To Avonlea stereotype. Campbell Scott's Nietzsche-loving athlete-turned-priest is played without fuss, as is Jennifer Tilly's weightlifting nurse.
There's also surprisingly good use of Ontario locations. But it's Butcher's level-headed, unselfconscious performance as the girl-obsessed, insecure Ralph that gives the film its heart and then makes it race.