“So B. It” follows the cross-country journey of Heidi It (Talitha Bateman, “Annabelle: Creation”) from Reno, Nevada to Liberty, New York as she searches for her origins. What could have been an autumn feel-good movie instead holds desperately to the narrative voice in the children’s book by Sarah Weeks, an Ann Arbor native. As a result, “So B. It” is riddled with awkward voice-overs (sometimes interjected into the middle of conversations) and artificial dialogue. The cast only emphasizes the stiffness of the script through monotone deliveries or, on the other end of the spectrum, out of place, ear-splitting and melodramatic screaming.
Heidi lives in an apartment with her special needs mother, So B. It (Jessie Collins, “Revolution”), and their former neighbor, Bernie (Alfre Woodard, “12 Years a Slave”). Suddenly spurred to discover her past when her mother conspicuously adds a new word to her extremely limited vocabulary, Heidi digs up old photos and follows the clues to a special living community, called Hilltop Home, in New York. Before she runs away, though, she throws a series of temper tantrums that feel unaligned with Heidi’s supposed selflessness and kindness. In fact, many of the characters Heidi meets on her trip to New York are contradictory, like the bus driver who first eyes her with suspicion, then inexplicably vouches for her, or the owner of Hilltop Home, Thurman Hill (John Heard, “Home Alone”).
When Heidi first meets Thurman Hill, he is belligerent and threatening, eventually ordering her to leave. A week later, after it is revealed they are related, he offers to be a real grandfather to her. This complete 180 in personality is not the only aspect of the film that is questionable. The film attempts to defend its improbable plot as a result of Heidi’s supposed good luck. Somehow, viewers are expected to believe a 12-year-old with some lipstick could sneak into a Las Vegas casino, play a slot machine and win enough quarters to travel nearly 3,000 miles. Or that, like voodoo magic, Heidi can whisper at a jar and guess the exact number of jellybeans in it. Or, as the film opens, her correctly predicting 10 coin flips in a row is a good reason for a cop to take her back to his home and attempt to adopt her. Besides being ridiculous, Heidi’s good luck has no other relation to the story or her character development, only existing as an excuse for an absurd plot.
“So B. It” fails most in its attempt to be inclusive and tug at heartstrings with its depiction of mental illnesses. Heidi’s mother functions almost like a prop throughout the film with a shallow background, no role other than to utter a word that sends her daughter on a bratty tailspin and a cringeworthy, unnuanced performance by Collins. Similarly, Woodard’s performance delivers an over-the-top depiction of agoraphobia. In a scene where Bernie struggles to overcome her fear that is meant to induce tears, Woodard jerks around like a woman possessed in a completely inaccurate and ultimately insensitive interpretation. Contrastly in films like “Silver Linings Playbook (2012)” and “Black Swan (2010),” mental illness served less as a tearjerker and instead as a complex, multi-faceted part of the character’s personality. Natalie Portman (“Jackie”), Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper”) and Jennifer Lawrence (“Joy”) — the lead actors in the aforementioned films — clearly put in the effort to understand the psyche of those with disorders outside of their physical manifestations. “So B. It” may have been based on a successful children’s book, but the film forgets to retain the very nature of stories about children that make them so moving — hope, fun and authenticity.