In the season of Passover and Easter, I feel obliged to take a more thoughtful approach to reviewing Sympathy for Delicious (SfD) than merely saying whether I liked the film or not. SfD chronicles the life of a newly paralyzed DJ, “Delicious” Dean (Christopher Thornton, also the film’s writer), who discovers that he has the gift to heal others, but not himself. Left to his own devices, this homeless practitioner would most likely have chosen a life of the truly forgotten, America’s chronically homeless. But, SfD has much more in store for the healer, the healed and the heels of skid row.
Enter the encouraging street outreach priest (Mark Ruffalo, also the film’s director) who tries to convince the DJ to use his new found powers for good, the struggling rock star (Orlando Bloom) who sees money and fame in all things and the arrant agent (Laura Linney) with the muscle memory of a Shakespearean temptress.
Thorton does an extraordinary job as the conflicted Delicious. Off screen, at the age of twenty five, the actor sustained a spinal injury in a rock climbing fall that left him paralyzed from the waist down. So in a wrenching scene where the DJ literally faces a work table too high to use and a worker’s unwillingness to make any reasonable accommodation, Thornton’s rage seems all too real.
SfD succeeds as much for what it is as for what it isn’t. Considering that SfD is about faith, its impressive that the film avoids being exploitative, preachy or dogmatic. It’s clearly a straight up critique of the transcendent power of faith. But it also explores Delicious’ journey towards self actualization: recognizing and coming to appreciate one’s own limitations is the one true path to understanding and reaching your full potential.
Ruffalo’s solid direction requires that viewers enter into an urban landscape of poverty seldom observed and frequently ignored. SfD’s power comes as much from its art as its ability to act as an unapologetic in-your-face public service announcement highlighting the depravity of homelessness and the need to bring American home.