Doonby is not your typical anti-abortion movie. I don’t think the word “abortion” is used in the film, and it’s not even alluded to until the final scenes. Unlike recent documentaries such as 180 and Blood Money, wonderful though they are, Doonby uses narrative — storytelling — to approach the issue obliquely. In fact, for the first 95% of the film, you think you’re watching a well-meaning low-budget thriller about a mysterious guy who shows up in a town and causes a bit of a stir. You wonder where it’s going, but even if you know it’s a pro-life movie, you’re surprised, delighted, and moved by the way it ends.
Doonby stars John Schneider, of “Dukes of Hazzard” and “Smallville” fame, as Sam Doonby, a Southern drifter who arrives in Smithville, TX, with nothing but a backpack and a charming smile. He quickly lands a job at a bar owned by a blues man named Leroy (played by Ernie Hudson, who is known to the world forever, whether he likes it or not, as the black Ghostbuster), and almost as quickly takes up with Laura (Jenn Gotzon), spoiled daughter of the town’s prominent gynecologist (Joe Estevez). Pro-life activist Jennifer O’Neill plays the doctor’s wife.
Throughout the rest of the film Doonby manages to continually be in the right place at the right time when crises occur, to the point that he has a major impact on the lives of many of the town’s residents, including Laura and her family, and attracts the attention of the sheriff (Robert Davi, who you may remember as one of the bad guys in The Goonies).
Through it at all, Doonby remains unflappable and good-natured, making drinks and playing a mean blues guitar (seriously, John Schneider is an excellent musician; who knew?) until he is introduced to Laura’s father, Dr. Cyrus Reaper. He refuses to shake the good doctor’s hand and bolts from the house without explanation.
Meanwhile, we are periodically seeing a flashback of Sam’s mother (played by impressive newcomer Erin Way), a single woman in the 1960s trying to raise a son, narrated by a voice-over from Doonby’s diary. Norma McCorvey, better known as “Jane Roe” of the Roe v. Wade case, makes her acting debut as a nosy neighbor who becomes crucial to the plot.
I can’t tell you anything more without giving away the ending and the message. Suffice it to say, Doonby does not preach to us. It only tells us abortion is bad inasmuch as it shows us that life is good. In other words, instead of hammering away at us for 90 minutes about how evil abortion is, it illustrates, through an engaging, thought-provoking story with a surprising finale, the inestimable value of a single human life.
Doonby is a low-budget film, and it shows. There are flaws; for example, not all of the actors won’t annoy you to death. But despite its drawbacks, this is a film worth watching, and not just for the avid pro-lifer. I thought I had considered abortion from every angle, but the way this film concluded made me consider things I hadn’t before, and even though I had guessed a little of the ending before it happened, the way it was done still managed to surprise me.
Someone once told me, talking about acting and comedy, “People love a magic trick.” In other words, they love to be shown what they have just missed. Doonby pulls off the magic trick admirably, and with an emotional effect that is as genuine as it is unexpected.
This film is proof that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The message and the way it is executed transcend the flaws in the production and leave you thinking about what you just saw well into the next day. I wish I could see the same story redone with a $30 million budget, big-name actors, and a huge marketing campaign, because this is a story that needs to be seen by Americans today more than ever.
Unfortunately, though, these types of films are hard to get made. In fact, writer/director Peter Mackenzie worked fifteen years to make Doonby happen. It took one generous investor to foot the entire bill, an investor who is willing to write off the loss if it happens. “It doesn’t matter as long as I save one life,” he told Mackenzie.
At a recent screening in Dallas, Mackenzie explained the filmmakers’ primary goal in making Doonby. “Ten percent of our profits are going to pro-life charities. The most important thing here is to make a difference. Obviously our investors want to get their money back, and I woudn’t mind making a few dollars here or there, but that wasn’t the reason why we made the film.”
It was important to Mackenzie to make a “mainstream” film that avoided preachiness or a heavy-handed message. “We’d love to preach to the choir, we want the choir to come, but it’s the other folks we’re trying to reach as much as possible,” he said.
Doonby opens in very limited release — Dallas and Mississippi — on February 24, and its fate is determined by its showing in these two markets. Pro-lifers, please do what you can to spread the word about this film. The entertainment world is harsh for those who share our beliefs. We should commend their fortitude for even getting this film made, and support them by helping promote it, especially since the better it does, the more money goes to crisis pregnancy centers.
If you live in Dallas or Mississippi, go see it and take some friends. If you know people in those areas, encourage them to go. Meanwhile, think about mentioning Doonby on your Twitter or Facebook. Every little bit helps.
We’re all in this fight together. Let’s give a boost to our fellow warriors on the front lines in Hollywood whenever we can. Doonby is a heartfelt film with a vital message, and it deserves a chance.
Visit the Doonby official website for more information.