A New York boxer and his family are put out on the street shortly before Christmas. The protagonist had had a moderately promising career, but had quit in a televised fight, making promoters reluctant to use him anymore.
The family—consisting of the man, his wife, and her son and daughter from a previous relationship—moves to a shelter temporarily. Soon their name comes up for an apartment they can afford, but when the man goes to claim it, he discovers that he must prove employment, which he cannot do since he has been working construction off the books. The best rule bending he can get in response to his pleading is that the apartment will be held open until the end of the day, so he has until then to return with acceptable proof that he has a job.
The opening makes it look like Where God Left His Shoes will be a boxing movie, but in fact it’s 2% about boxing and 98% a family drama.
The quitting in the ring thing is not really explored as one might expect. The incident is not shown or described in detail, and it’s never really explained why he quit. When one of the characters brings it up and it looks like there’s going to be a confrontation over it, it’s quickly defused.
There’s no big revelation about it, no clear reason it was included as part of the storyline, unless the idea is simply that we’re to contrast the incident in the ring with the way he doggedly refuses to quit in life and in his efforts to support his family. So the point would be something along the lines of it being excusable to be a quitter in a small area of life when you redeem yourself by not being a quitter in areas that matter far more.
The bulk of the movie consists of his rushing around New York for several hours desperately trying to get a job. He is accompanied by his stepson, and besides the quest to get a job there gradually develops an ultimately more important quest to improve his relationship with his stepson.
That relationship is handled quite well in the film. You sense why they haven’t connected all that well up until now, as well as how this experience is bringing them closer together.
At first it maybe doesn’t seem realistic that this family—two perfectly healthy adults able to work, everyone sane and functional, no one on drugs—would be homeless. But during hard economic times, the number of “normal” people who fail to make ends meet and show up at shelters goes up significantly, and it’s really not just the winos and junkies and lunatics and such that are homeless.
One thing that did strike me as a little off is that the wife only once mentions her willingness to get a job, and the husband immediately shoots down the idea. This male pride thing of being the sole breadwinner while your wife stays home is a luxury that families like this can’t afford, and it’s hard to believe they would stick to it even to the point of homelessness.
Beyond how realistic the story is or isn’t, what most stands out about it is the movie does everything possible to get you to sympathize with this family.
They’re not allowed to have any flaws beyond the smallest, so as not to complicate the picture of them as the “deserving” poor. Everyone else on the streets and in the shelters is more like the stereotype of the homeless; there are no other intact white families with children to claim their share of the viewer’s sympathy. When they are turned down for an apartment, a job, or a spot in a shelter, no mention is made of the fact that these will go to other people who are also in need; we are encouraged only to hurt for this family’s missing out on them.
That last is an important point. At times it’s like the movie wants you to think of the social workers and bureaucrats and such as the bad guys because they’re blocking these good folks from having a decent life. But when you think about it, it’s not as if the apartment/job/shelter bed is going to sit vacant. Someone else—who we happen not to have been introduced to and encouraged to sympathize with, but who presumably also is worthy of a decent life—will be getting those things.
The movie doesn’t take a lot of chances, doesn’t add a lot of moral complexity and ambiguity. It’s pretty straightforward and formulaic. It presents these folks for you to root for, shows you the terrible deprivation they’re suffering through, and shows you just how strong they are as a family, and how if anything the family ties end up even stronger as a result of these struggles.
Normally that might make a film a mild disappointment, kind of a dull, feel-good story you’ve seen a million times. But this movie is unusually good for a movie of that general type. It’s well written, it’s well acted, and it held my interest throughout. I liked these characters and I liked this movie quite a bit.
I’ll even give it a small bonus for the ending. It’s not some kind of dynamite, memorable ending, but what I appreciate about it is it’s one time the movie did not in fact do the “obvious” thing. I had been a little disappointed in that it seemed the ending was telegraphed, but then it turns out that’s not where it goes after all.
It’s kind of a classy, understated ending. Still a feel-good ending in a sense, but not in the obvious “happy ending” sense that seemed to be coming.
Overall I feel good about Where God Left His Shoes and can give it a moderate recommendation.