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How do you survive the boredom of summer in the hot, small town of Medda, Alabama? For Billy Bob Murphy (Joe Pichler), it's dreaming of going to the World Series. Having recently lost his Daddy during World War II, the young boy has no choice but to try and earn the travel money himself. His best friend, Preacher Star (Jesse Plemons), is in a similar predicament, so between goofing off and getting into mischief, the pair look for various odd jobs to finance their aspiration.
Then, on Billy Bob's thirteenth birthday, an event suddenly pales the thrill of a ball game. The afternoon bus drops off Miss Lily Jane Bobbitt (Tania Raymonde) and her mute mother (Phillis Frelich) who have come to Medda for reasons we're never sure of -- and the two young boys who immediately determine the girl is more beautiful than anyone they have ever seen before, aren't concerned about such details. The desire to attract her attention washes all the dullness out of their life, but also begins to hang their friendship out to dry.
Unfortunately, from the perspective of the young sophisticated lady (and her synthetic southern accent), their efforts are anything but impressive. Instead, Lily Jane's near-adult maturity leads her to befriend Rosalba (Brazhal Brewer), an African-American girl who hesitantly accepts the innocent invitations into Lily Jane's white world. With neighbors eyeing the contrasting complexions of the newfound friends, and the boys confused over their own emotions, the tension builds until yet another stranger drops by.
Stranded on the side of the road, Mr. Quince and his wife make their way to the Medda hotel to await repairs to their luxury automobile. Passing their time playing cards with the locals, Mr. Quince slyly drops hints of his connections with the entertainment business, and knowledge of large companies looking for laborers. Convinced the town is full of gifted individuals and knowing there are many people desperate for work, the community quickly rallies to create a talent show and to pay Mr. Quince for the employment opportunity.
When the boys get wind of the plans, they convince Miss Lily Jane to sing her way into Mr. Quince's promised Hollywood prospects. Following the expected montage of jugglers and off-key sopranos, our starlet belts out a tune she's written that would make American Idol history (and her voice sounds surprisingly familiar too).
If you don't come into this movie expecting a birthday surprise, you won't be disappointed. A few minutes into the plot, the conflicts are well outlined and work toward their expected conclusions. Lessons are learned, bad guys are caught, and the town seems better off for the experience.
Instead, it's the character development resulting from the conflict between Billy Bob and Preacher that makes this worth a watch in your family room. Both have to make difficult decisions about where their priorities lie, and Preacher must also decide if he's going to follow in the destructive footsteps of his family, or listen to his own conscience.
Based on a short story by Truman Capote, who believed one of the worlds most beautiful sights were children on their birthdays, this slice of life shows how we can all improve when life isn't a piece of cake.
Children On Their Birthdays is rated PG: for mild thematic elements and brief language
Cast: Sheryl Lee, Joe Pichler