SAINT JUDY – movie review

Blue Fox Entertainment
Reviewed for & by: Harvey Karten
Director: Sean Hanish
Screenwriter: Dmitry Portnoy
Cast: Michelle Monaghan, Leem Lubany Alfred Molina, Alfre Woodard, Common, Peter Krause
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC 3/1/19
Opens: March 1, 2019


If you’re a Trump supporter you are likely to be outraged by “Saint Judy.” If you consider yourself a soul buddy of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, you will cheer. However if you are not fond of movies that ooze sentimentality, that have predictable conclusions in which even those who prosecute cases against asylum seekers for ICE move to the left, you will be disappointed, pardon my cynicism. Director Sean Hanish demonstrated his interest in movies that tug the heartstrings in ”Return to Zero,” covering a couples doubts about pregnancy.

“Saint Judy” has its heart on its sleeve, based on a true case fought by Judith Wood (whom we see in the final scene). However it’s difficult to believe that an asylum seeker from Afghanistan can speak perfect English, and with an American accent rather than the British one from which non-English speaking people in the Middle East get instruction. Of course she is beautiful and confident. It is also difficult to accept the court process by which this asylum seeker gets the full attention for two days of a federal judge and then the opportunity to take her battle to an appeals proceeding followed by a large audience of spectators.

Judy Wood (Michelle Monaghan), the title figure, has spent ten years as a public defender, a woman with a zeal and knowledge of the law willing to give up the big bucks that she could probably get in private law assisting people with money. She moves from New Mexico to California opening a clinic to handle clients who do not have much of a voice. Her prior boss (Alfred Molina) is burned out, once a firebrand known for helping people like ones Judy is dealing with but now having faced the reality of putting his two kids in college. Judy visits Asefa (Leem Lubany) in a detention center, finding her disheveled and unresponsive, drugged into a near comatose condition. When Asefa is ready to talk she tells the story of how she was attacked in her native village by men because she is teaching female children to read. In jail she is raped repeatedly. She now claims asylum, insisting that if she is deported, she will be killed by her family for “dishonoring” them. She has the chutzpah to be raped and is considered a fallen woman. Flashbacks to Afghanistan show Asefa marching boldly to school with a group of girls only to be pelted with stones.

Discouraged by her boss who thinks the case is a loser, Judy presses on, setting up a two-days’ trial in front of Judge Benton (Alfre Woodard with the government side handled by Benjamin Adebayo (Common). Adding to the glitz and commercialism of the film she has to deal with her ex-husband Matthew (Peter Krause) who accuses her of spending all her time on her clients, neglecting domestic bliss. He gives her name of Saint Judy as a pejorative.

We’re in Erin Brockovich country, highlighting an idealistic woman who fights so card for her clients (actually she has only one client) that she can’t pay any of her bills nor can she keep the electricity on in her office. Monaghan shows her pluck, but the idealism, jacked up by James T. Sale’s pop music in the soundtrack, turns what could have been a more powerful, authentic film into slick commercialism.

Filmed in Santa Clarita, California.

106 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – C+