On the surface, “Same Kind of Different As Me” might seem like standard inspirational fare, sharing the true story of how an affluent couple, Ron and Debbie Hall, befriended a homeless man named Denver Moore and changed his life. But when you look closer, the movie is actually a love story, both in terms of the renewed romantic love inside a troubled marriage – and the ways in which we as human beings can live out the divine love which God bestows upon all of us.
“Same Kind of Different As Me” was inspired by Ron Hall and Denver Moore’s best-selling memoir, and the film’s official synopsis gives you the bones of the story:
“With more money than they could ever possibly need, Ron and Debbie Hall have everything they could ever want … except for a loving marriage. When Ron’s unfaithfulness is brought to light, Debbie invites him to stay—as long as he remains truthful and does what she asks of him. But when her request includes serving the homeless at an inner-city rescue mission, Ron would prefer to write a large check instead. Guided by her faith and spurred on by the dream of a homeless man she senses will change their city, Debbie befriends a disenfranchised man named Denver. More surprisingly, so does Ron. Despite vast differences, their lives begin to intersect and they all are changed … forever.”
But as I said, that’s just the skeleton. It’s the “fleshing out” moments that make the film worthwhile.
For instance, there’s the scene in which Debbie confronts Ron about his infidelity. Zellweger plays the moment beautifully, conveying anger, woundedness, and confusion.
Ron notes they haven’t been intimate in two years. Debbie cries, “We haven’t slept together in two years. We haven’t been intimate in 10 years.”
In a culture that automatically equates sex with intimacy, that line is a wake-up call.
Debbie then goes further down the counter-cultural route. Instead of seeking revenge against Ron and his mistress, she chooses a humble strength to fight for her marriage. With Ron present, Debbie calls his mistress, says she forgives her and that she hopes she finds someone to love.
Ron is humbled by Debbie’s grace and tells her, “I choose you.”
Debbie’s willingness to see the good in Ron and their relationship is also what leads the two of them to volunteer at the local Mission for the homeless. It’s in a bad part of town and not the cleanest facility, so Ron wants no part of it.
“Are there any infectious diseases floating around this place,” he asks Jimmy, the manager.
Jimmy answers, “Absolutely. We try to infect them all with love.”
That sure reflects Debbie’s approach as she’s serving food to the patrons. She introduces herself to each of them by name, and asks their names in return. Instead of looking through them, she looks at them with a tenderness that affirms their inherent dignity.
Ron slowly discovers how easily an unlucky turn in life or a couple of bad decisions can spiral into homelessness. But that still doesn’t prepare him for when he meets an angry, violent man who calls himself Suicide. His real name is Denver, and despite his rage, Debbie isn’t scared of him. Instead, she senses that there is pain behind the anger, so she repeatedly pushes Ron to get to know him.
These scenes demonstrate the depths of Ron’s repentance because most men would have seen Denver and run the other way. But out of love for Debbie, Ron reaches out – and finally has his kindness returned by Denver, who opens up about his past growing up on a plantation, being beaten by the KKK, getting baptized in his youth, and more.
Denver commends Ron’s efforts at the Mission, telling him that when he gives a homeless person a plate of food, he’s saying, “You ain’t invisible. I see you.”
But once again, this all stems from Debbie. Denver comments, “God is in the recycling business of turning trash into treasure. I believe Miss Debbie must be his best employee.”
While Denver means this to refer to himself and the other patrons of the Mission, it also applies to Ron, who has been turned from trash to treasure by Debbie’s love, which is grounded in God’s love.
Speaking of God, the movie isn’t heavy-handed in its approach to faith, and you won’t be hit with a metaphorical Bible while watching it. God is definitely part of the story, but He is integrated organically.
Having not read the book prior to seeing the movie, I expected “Same Kind of Different As Me” to be about Ron and Denver, but I was surprised that Debbie was actually the heart of the story. Zellweger plays her with a saintliness that makes it easy to see why people were so impacted by her.
Hounsou as Denver is a commanding and charismatic presence, while Kinnear brings an everyman quality to Ron. In addition, Jon Voight plays Ron’s alcoholic father, making him alternately likable and appalling, often within the span of a few seconds.
In the end, “Same Kind of Different As Me” presents a meaningful story about how individuals can change the world when we practice the life-changing power of love. The movie opens Friday Oct. 20.