Take 3: Anne Tyler’s Saint Maybe Review (National Read a Book Day Double Feature Part 1)

Happy National Read a Book Day! I want to let you know there will be spoilers for both the book and movie in this review. If you want to check out this double feature’s introduction, you can visit this link:

The National Read a Book Day’s Double Feature Introduction

Anne Tyler’s Saint Maybe poster created by Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions and CBS
1. How did you come to know of this film?

If you’ve been following my blog, you would know that my least favorite Hallmark Hall of Fame movie is Back When We Were Grownups. Like a lot of Hallmark Hall of Fame productions, the 2004 film was based on pre-existing source material; a novel written by Anne Tyler. Over the years, I discovered that two other Hallmark Hall of Fame movies have been based on Anne’s work: Breathing Lessons and Saint Maybe. Before this double feature, I had never seen either film. All I knew about Hallmark’s 1998 adaptation was that a man took in a deceased relative’s children and that the story had something to do with forgiveness. I also remember how the film would sometimes air during Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ ‘Miracles of Christmas’ marathon.

2. How did you acquire this movie’s respective source material?

I purchased a second-hand copy of Saint Maybe at an estate sale earlier this year. As soon as I saw the book on a shelf, it reminded me of my Hallmark Hall of Fame Reading Challenge. Back in 2019, I created a reading challenge based on the books or plays that were adapted into Hallmark Hall of Fame titles. Since I’d like to read as many of these works as I realistically can, I purchased the book with that intention.

3. Have you read Anne Tyler‘s work before? What are thoughts on her writing?

As I said in the introduction, this was my first time reading anything by Anne Tyler. Based on what I read and based on what I saw in Back When We Were Grownups, I’m going to guess her forte is writing about larger families that are somewhat dysfunctional. Out of those two stories, I liked Saint Maybe more than Back When We Were Grownups. There was heart incorporated in the narrative and the Bedloe family had a legitimate reason for their dysfunctionality. I was also surprised by the inclusion of religion/faith. But I didn’t like how the chapters were too long. What Anne should have done instead is write shorter chapters and include them in separate sections for each character. I, personally, am not a fan of “slice of life” stories. About eighty percent of Saint Maybe is just that: a “slice of life” story. With all that said, I thought the novel was well-meaning and fine.

4. Was the movie different from its source material? If so, how?

For the most part, Saint Maybe was faithful to the source material, especially when it came to the most important parts of the story. But there were changes found in the adaptation. One of these changes was Agatha’s personality. In the book, when Agatha was introduced in the story as a young child, she came across as distant and matter-of-fact. As she grows up, Agatha comes to despise religion, as she feels religion was forced upon her life. The movie version of Agatha adopts the personality Thomas had in the book, coming across as sweet and mild-mannered. She grows up to be a friendly doctor who has no known opinion on religion. While she does criticize The Church of the Second Chance, she does this because she wants Ian to live his best life. Her criticism has nothing to do with religion itself.

Another difference between the movie and its source material is how Ian figures out the identity of Agatha and Thomas’ father. Agatha, in the book, is very protective over a jewelry box she claims belonged to her mother. Ian stumbles across this box by accident and finds Agatha’s and Thomas’ birth certificates among the jewelry and other items. These certificates reveal their father’s last name; Dulsimore. Ian learns this information differently in the movie. Similar to the book, Thomas and Agatha own a doll named Dulcimer. While Agatha is at Ian’s parents’ house, the audience can see her trying to remove something from the back of the doll. However, this information isn’t revealed until later in the movie. When the Bedloe family hires Rita diCarlo to organize their house, a lot of items end up getting thrown out. One of these items was Dulcimer the doll. As Ian is leaving the house, he sees the doll in a garbage bag. When he picks it up, he finds a slip of paper hidden in the doll’s back, revealing the doll’s name was also the last name of Agatha and Thomas’ father.

5. Do you think the movie was better than the book or was the book better than the movie?

Like its source material, I thought the movie adaptation of Saint Maybe was fine. Therefore, this is a difficult question to answer. But I will try to answer this question as best as I can by saying this: If you want to see a story about a family dealing with a personal tragedy, I’d recommend the movie. This is because the movie gets straight to the story’s point a lot sooner than the book did. If you’re interested in a story where the protagonist overcomes guilt and sin through religion/faith, I’d recommend the book. As I’ll explain later in this review, the movie didn’t feature religion/faith as much as in the book.

This is the copy of Saint Maybe I purchased earlier this year. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.
6. Saint Maybe and At Home in Mitford share some similarities, such as how both books were published in the 1990s. Are there any other similarities you can think of?

As I said in answer number three, I was surprised by the inclusion of religion/faith in Saint Maybe. Even though the movie and its source material are titled Saint Maybe, I wasn’t expecting religion/faith to play a large role in the text. But religion/faith is a cornerstone of both Saint Maybe and At Home in Mitford.  References to God, the Bible, and Christianity can be found in each book. However, the way both authors incorporated these ideas into their stories is very distinct.Throughout Saint Maybe, the congregation of The Church of the Second Chance obeyed a rule that forbade them from consuming sugar. While this rule seems ridiculous on the surface, it is used as a metaphor for sin. Reverend Emmett, the leader of The Church of the Second Chance, explains that if one actively avoids sugar, they are actively avoiding sin. If someone tries to make excuses for consuming sugar, they are making excuses for committing sin.

7. Should Hallmark adapt Anne Tyler‘s other work? If so, why?

As of early September 2021, Hallmark has not made any announcements on whether they are bringing back the Hallmark Hall of Fame collection. But if Hallmark does choose to create more Hallmark Hall of Fame titles and would like to adapt more of Anne Tyler’s novels, there are plenty of stories for them to choose from. According to Goodreads, twenty-four books written by Anne Tyler have not been adapted into a Hallmark production. Since I’ve never read any of those books, I can’t say which one is more deserving of receiving an adaptation. But if I had to pick at least one title Hallmark should adapt into a film, it would either be A Patchwork Planet or Digging to America. This is based on each book’s synopsis, as I have not read either book.

Personally, I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Hallmark adapt more of Anne Tyler’s stories. Based on my experience with Saint Maybe, the movie was mostly faithful to the source material. So, with the right creative team involved, maybe another Anne Tyler story could be lucky enough to receive similar treatment. Because three of Anne Tyler’s books have been adapted into Hallmark Hall of Fame titles, it appears Hallmark has had a good working relationship with the author. I’m not sure how much creative control Anne had on either film. But if Hallmark wants to work with Anne again, I’m pretty sure an agreement between both parties could be reached.

8. Is there anything about Saint Maybe you liked or didn’t like?

Saint Maybe is a story that takes place over the course of several years. In the movie, there were subtle clues revealing which time period was portrayed on screen. One establishing shot showed a boy riding his banana seat bicycle down the sidewalk. This brief image indicated how that specific part of the story took place in the 1970s, as banana seat bicycles were popular within that decade. During the movie, Ian adopted a pair of large rimmed glasses. Because this style of glasses was common in the 1980s, Ian’s accessory is very telling of how much time had passed since the beginning of the film. Movies are a visual form of story-telling. So, I liked how the film’s creative team took the initiative to show the passage of time in a creative way.

 My favorite part of the book was when Daphne tried to set up Ian with her fifth-grade teacher, Miss Pennington. It was in this chapter that I started to like Daphne as a character, her free-spirited personality being introduced to me as the reader. Unfortunately, this part of the book wasn’t translated to the screen. I was disappointed by the omission of the book’s seventh chapter. The audience could have witnessed the evolution of Daphne’s personality, gaining an understanding of why she became who she was by the end of the story. Instead, there was a huge time jump from five-year-old girl to free-spirited woman. Because of missing context, this left questions without answers. But I recognize there is only so much story you can tell in eighty-four minutes.

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9. Did you develop any thoughts and/or questions while watching this film?

While I didn’t develop any questions, I was surprised by how religion/faith was downplayed in Saint Maybe’s film adaptation. Yes, Ian’s introduction to The Church of the Second Chance was similar to the book. Agatha and Thomas tell Ian what they learned at summer camp, which was run by The Church of the Second Chance. Toward the end of the film, the Bedloe family are seen going to church. Other than these moments, religion/faith didn’t have an influence over the character’s lives. The Sugar Rule I talked about in answer number six was never brought up in the script. Reverend Emmett’s beliefs on how his congregation was led didn’t appear in any of the character’s dialogue. Even Reverend Emmett himself showed up in two or three scenes, having a much smaller presence than he did in the book. Saint Maybe’s film adaptation was released in 1998, a time when shows like Touched by An Angel were finding success on mainstream television. In hindsight, Hallmark choosing not to ride Touched by An Angel’s coattails kind of seems like a missed opportunity.

10. Would Saint Maybe encourage viewers to read either its source material or any other book?

I think it depends on what type of story someone wants to consume. As I said in answer number five, I’d recommend the book if you’re interested in a story where religion/faith is one of the key themes. But if you like films from the drama genre, those that explore relationships between characters, then the film adaptation is for you. I’ve said before that I am not a fan of “slice of life” stories. Like I mentioned in answer number three, Saint Maybe is primarily a “slice of life” story. If I hadn’t read the book beforehand, I would probably choose the movie over the text.

11. After watching this movie, is there anything you can take away from your movie viewing experience?

I now understand why Saint Maybe was sometimes shown during Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ ‘Miracles of Christmas’ marathon. Several scenes took place during Christmas-time, with decorations associated with the holiday shown in the background. But I wouldn’t necessarily call Saint Maybe a Christmas story/movie. I said in answer number eight that this story took place over the course of several years. The themes and messages within the text are not exclusive to the Christmas season. In 2019, I created a tier rank list of every Hallmark Hall of Fame movie I’ve ever seen. Since posting that list, I have renamed each category. For Saint Maybe, I’d place this film adaptation in the category titled ‘Bought It at a Garage Sale for a Dollar’. The movie itself was fine, but I wouldn’t pay $20 if it was sold on DVD.

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

The National Read a Book Day’s Double Feature Introduction

Back in March, I published my review of The Abominable Dr. Phibes. That post became my 500th. Every time I publish 100 posts, I host a special double feature. For months, I was trying to find the right theme for these reviews. Remembering how my first milestone double feature was published on Halloween, I decided to commemorate another holiday. However, I wanted to choose a holiday that is lesser known. After doing some research on the internet, I learned National Read a Book Day is celebrated on September 6th. This caused me to remember how I not only had the 2017 movie, At Home in Mitford, on my DVR, but I also owned a copy of the book it is based on. Then I remembered I had a copy of Saint Maybe, the same book that was adapted into a Hallmark Hall of Fame film. That was when the idea for this double feature was born! With every double feature, I try to answer a thought-provoking question related to both films. Since I read both aforementioned books before watching each movie, I am asking the following question:

Would these adaptations encourage the viewers to read their source material or any other book?

Prior to this double feature, I had never read anything by Jan Karon or Anne Tyler. I also have never seen the Hallmark Hall of Fame adaptation of Saint Maybe before. But this will be my second time watching At Home in Mitford, as I first saw the film when it released in 2017. Similar to my PB & J double feature, there are no pre-movie thoughts and/or questions this time.

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Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen