Back Rowe Reviews
Real Time Movie Reviews from the Back Row of a Theater

May 2024

Unsung Hero (PG)

Directed by: Richard L. Ramsey, Joel Smallbone
Starring: Daisy Betts
April 2024

Warning! This is NOT a movie review. This is a critique of the film. Intended to initiate a dialogue, the following analysis explores various aspects of the film and may contain spoilers. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. Ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!

David Smallbone (Joel Smallbone), an Australian music promoter, has had some success in bringing contemporary Christian bands from America to the land Down Under in the late 80s. Despite sound advice to the contrary, David turns down a “lesser act,” DeGarmo & Key, and signs a major deal to bring over emerging superstar Amy Grant for an extensive concert tour.

Then the nation suffers an economic downturn, resulting in Grant performing for crowds of hundreds rather than thousands. Since David’s name appears on the contract, he ends up losing his job and foreclosing on his beautiful home.

In an act of desperation, David takes a job in America and moves his wife, Helen (Daisy Betts), and six kids (with one in the oven) to Nashville, TN. Showing up to work on the first day, David learns that his position was given to someone else. Since his work visa prohibits him from getting another job, David resorts to doing landscaping work for cash with his older kids just to afford their unfurnished house. When David solicits work at a nearby mansion, guess who opens the door? Yep, you guessed it…Eddie DeGarmo!

Right off the bat, the movie gives us a poignant lesson in the dangers of pride. David considered it beneath him to bring DeGarmo’s band over to his country. Now he’s in DeGarmo’s country scrubbing his toilet bowl. How the mighty have fallen.

Pride rears its ugly head when David is shamed by generous neighbors and fellow churchgoers. He pushes them away right when his family needs them most, when child #7 arrives. David’s inability to find a job and provide for his family sends him into a state of debilitating depression.

In yet another act of pride, David shuns the advice of his loving father, James (Terry O’Quinn). During a phone conversation, David hangs up on his dad; an act that comes back to haunt him just days later when James unexpectedly dies.

Of course, this film isn’t about debased David, his long-suffering wife or his ever-encouraging dad, it’s about the Smallbone children—three of whom would grow up to become Grammy Award-winning performers.

They say kids are resilient, and this movie certainly proves that aphorism true. Without beds, batteries for toy robots or even much to eat (Ramen again?), the kids found ways to stay busy helping the family and somehow managed to have fun despite their limited means and humble circumstances. This spotlights the movie’s main theme, which is that the most important things in life are faith and family—an ethic exemplified by the Smallbone clan.

The most famous Smallbone is the eldest daughter, Rebecca St. James (Kirrilee Berger). Her younger brothers, Joel and Luke, are members of the group For King & Country. In an ironic feat of casting, Joel (who also co-wrote and co-directed the film) plays his father, who was about his age during the early 90s, when the movie is set.

There are many highlights in the film, including the two-hanky Christmas scene when neighbors show up with everything on the Smallbone’s wish list; furniture, washer and dryer, Christmas tree and presents.

The movie’s culminating moment comes when seventeen-year-old Rebecca auditions for DeGarmo, with her younger brothers singing background vocals (the tryout comes complete with edited home video footage projected onto a large screen by another of the Smallbone boys). Rebecca’s original song, “You Make Everything Beautiful,” has a lilting quality and a catchy, hum-all-day melody.

So, who’s the titular agency? Is it the unidentified benefactor who pays the Smallbone’s hospital bill after the birth of their youngest child? Or is it some unseen guiding hand that, through all their hardships, has been leading the Smallbone family to exactly where they need to be? Depends on what, or who, you believe. But there’s no mystery as to what the Smallbone family believes.

Unsung Hero is an inspirational, follow-your-dreams biopic that reminds us of the power of courage, kindness and perseverance.

And to honor God, country, family and all the other heroes in our lives.

Rating: 2 ½ out of 4