When we see Simon Birch on a tombstone, with a thoughtful friend, Joe (Jim Carrey), reminiscing about how the person in the grave helped him find faith in God, we already know where the ending of the movie will take us.
With curiosity we flashback to 1964 and meet 12 year old Simon (Ian Michael Smith) and Joe (Joseph Mazzello). An unlikely looking pair, these two boys have much in common, beside the obvious things like baseball, swimming, and gawking at girls. Both are battling with self-identity. For Joe, it's because he's an illegitimate child, and his mother refuses to give details about who his father is. Meanwhile, Simon struggles with neglectful parents, his very small stature (a result of a physical impairment from birth), and most of all, his quest to confirm that God does indeed have a plan for him.
With this premise, we should expect a great movie -- but that's where things go wrong. Rather than providing a character older and wiser than Simon who can help him and the audience understand these complex issues, the creators have chosen to fill the screen with typecast people, like a minister who can't openly discuss faith in God and a self righteous Sunday School teacher who tells Simon he doesn't belong in church.
While the film tries to make Simon the spiritual leader, we get mixed messages as he and Joe enjoy activities like wondering what a girl's breast would feel like and using a wide vocabulary of vulgar and bathroom-humor terms. Eventually, the story degenerates into a kids-know-best tale with a contrived ending.
Perhaps the movie's greatest success is illustrating society's ability to only see the outward appearance of a person. Ironically, the Disney promotion department suffers from this problem. Ian Michael Smith, himself living with a birth deformity, does a tremendous job playing the leading character in this, his first feature film. However, you have to peer at the fine print on the back of the box before you find his name. For me, that was the lesson of Simon Birch.