Netflix Update No. 84: “The Woodcarver”

October 23, 2013

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I’m not a big fan of “faith-based movies,” although my full-time work is in religion, but we did watch a movie in that category, because the star was John Ratzenberger. Like most folks, we know Ratzenberger from his eleven-year run as Cliff Clavin, the know-it-all postman and barfly on the television series Cheers. Ratzenberger has had an extensive career; among other things, he has made a specialty of providing voices for Pixar films — all Pixar films. He has also been active in Republican politics, and he is a published author, a business entrepreneur, an advocate for training in skilled trades, and a member of the boards of directors at two universities.

DAKOTA DAULBY

DAKOTA DAULBY

Ratzenberger plays the title role in The Woodcarver, a Canadian film that concerns Matthew Stevenson (Dakota Daulby), a teenager who is troubled because his parents, Jack and Rita (Woody Jeffreys and Nicole Oliver) are involved in an acrimonious breakup. The fallout, especially in the form of Jack’s angry outbursts, often lands on Matthew. The boy acts out his frustration by vandalizing the Baptist church that his family attends. In the process, he destroys ornamental work that was done by Ernest Otto, a local craftsman who has been reclusive since the death of his wife.

The pastor of the church reaches an accommodation with the Stevensons in which Matthew won’t be prosecuted if he helps repair the damage he did. The pastor also prevails on a reluctant Ernest to replace the hand-carved planks that had decorated the church. This job puts Ernest in direct competition with Jack’s boss and potential partner, who is in the lumber supply business.

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Matthew does some repairs at the church, but he eventually takes an interest in Ernest and starts working in Ernest’s shop, learning the woodcarving trade. Although Jack objects to this arrangement, it continues and even goes a step further as Matthew leaves home and temporarily moves in with Ernest. In their conversations, Ernest teaches Matthew to judge his actions by asking himself, “WWJD – What would Jesus do?” It’s not so much a religious lesson as it is an ethical one; in fact, Ernest doesn’t discuss religion at all. The boy may not know his theology, but he knows the broad outlines of the kind of life Jesus led, so he has no trouble understanding Ernest’s meaning.

There’s much more to the plot than that and, “faith-based” or not, the movie held our interest to the end. Besides the story line, that’s attributable to good acting on the part of all the principles, including Ratzenberger in a much more understated role than his signature character.
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16 Responses to “Netflix Update No. 84: “The Woodcarver””


  1. Sounds interesting, as a teen my grandmother would always take me to faith based films, and some were good, but some were just the worst. This sounds like a good movie.

    • charlespaolino Says:

      It holds up better than some faith movies I’ve seen because it’s presented as a story from real life. In fact, Ernest’s emphasis on applying Christian principles to everyday situations is an increasingly important theme in the Catholic Church, and it has gotten impetus from the teaching of Pope Francis, which is often very practical.

  2. Eric Says:

    Hi Charles
    Netflix updates sounds like a great idea for a blog! I am always surprised by the endless selection of movies right at your fingertips with Netflix. I look forward to reading more of your Netflix reviews. Thanks for sharing.

    • charlespaolino Says:

      We have been especially impressed by the independent films that we otherwise would not have seen – or, for that matter, heard about.


  3. ist the movie called wwjd what would jesus do


  4. oh can you look at my recent post

  5. shoreacres Says:

    I love the premise of the movie. Has anyone drawn a comparison between Ernest and Jesus? After all, there is that woodworker connection. It seems from your review that “WWJD” and “What Would Ernest Do” might have had equal influence over Matthew.

    When I began working as a boat varnisher, people spent a year or two asking the usual questions – how COULD I? I liked to smile and say, “Well, if carpentry was good enough for Jesus, varnishing ought to be ok for me.”

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