“Sympathy for Delicious” Asks a Lot of You, Gives Most of It Back

Popcorn Biz's Scott Ross recently returned from the Sundance Film Festival, where independent movies are unveiled.

Mark Ruffalo’s directorial debut, “Sympathy for Delicious,” tells the story of a wheelchair-bound ex-DJ who discovers he has the power to heal others, but not himself, a gift he goes on to use to achieve rock stardom.

“We're asking you guys to swallow a big fish, starting with faith healing,” acknowledged Ruffalo during the Q&A following Friday’s screening at the Racquet Club Theater here in Park City, Utah, as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

“Sympathy” is the brainchild of Christopher Thornton, who also plays the title role. Thornton and Ruffalo have been friends for 20 years, having gone to acting school together. Seventeen years ago, Thornton had a rock climbing accident that left him confined to a wheelchair.

Even Thornton is dubious about faith healing, a sentiment he expressed rather succinctly when asked about the possibility of it being real.

“Well, I'm still sitting here,” he said, laughing.

The success of this film rests entirely on your willingness to swallow the “big fish.” Otherwise you should steer clear, because there is a whole lot of faith healing in “Sympathy for Delicious.” Really, though, the plot is no more preposterous than that of The Who’s “Tommy,” though music isn't as good.

In addition to directing, Ruffalo played a Father Joe, a priest who convinces Delicious to use his gift for the folks on Skid Row in LA. Eventually Delicious begins to feel exploited and decides that he should profit from his gift, rather than letting Joe’s homeless shelter reap the rewards.

The film has plenty to say about the responsibility one has to himself and his fellow man. But it only makes a nod at what seems like a missed opportunity to comment on the healthcare debate. It mostly works, though the name they concoct for the rock/healing show is groan-inducing – find out for yourself – and after asking you to accept faith healing, you’re asked to endure yet another bit of magical realism.

Orlando Bloom, Laura Linney and Juliette Lewis all star in the film as well, having come aboard only after Ruffalo lost his original cast when a family issue forced him to delay shooting.

“I reached out to my friend Laura Linney and she read the script and she really loved it … then I got a call from one of Orlando Bloom's reps… and honestly, he wasn't the first person that I had in mind, but damn am I glad that it ended up that way -- I'm so happy with what he did and I'm really proud of his performance,” explained Ruffalo. “Juliette came in to talk to me to tell me she wouldn’t play the part because (it) was too close to her life. Out of respect she came to meet me to tell me she wouldn't do it and my will just superseded hers.”

Having been friends for so long, one audience member asked if the actor-director relationship put any strain on Ruffalo and Thornton’s friendship.

“Dare I use your line from earlier tonight,” Ruffalo asked Thornton, pausing just longing enough to be egged on by the crowd. “’I'm gonna stab you in the a**hole!’”

“This is the absolute last time I have a glass of wine before the Q&A,” said Thornton.

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