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"Same Kind of Different as Me" Replaces Cynicism With Real Hope

In one touching scene, Ron Hall (played by Greg Kinnear) watches as his

wife Deborah (Renée Zellweger) dances with their homeless friend, Denver (Djimon Hounsou).

"If this movie doesn't inspire viewers,

then they need an emotional EKG."

Perhaps you’ve heard that a new movie, Same Kind of Different as Me, will hit 1,362 theaters nationwide this weekend.

Perhaps you know that it premiered in Madison, Mississippi, last week.

Perhaps you’ve heard the film was produced by 40-something Mississippian Stephen Johnston, a sincere Christian who has risen in a short time from modest beginnings to multimillionaire status.

And perhaps you’ve heard that the movie was largely filmed in and around Jackson (the actual plot is set in Texas).

Perhaps you’ve even read the mega-bestselling book by the same title that inspired the movie.

But did you know that a highly finicky entertainment magazine—Variety—recently bit its lip and admitted that this value-laden movie hits the spot? “My audience left Same Kind of Different as Me on an emotional high,” wrote Variety reporter Amy Nicholson.

About 1,000 viewers in Madison last week showed a similar response.

Same Kind of Different as Me strikes straight to the soul.

The fact that the film is based on a true story only heightens its power, offering proof that men and women can radically change for the better. Despite our greatest differences, we can discover just how similar we really are and tap into a spiritually-empowered capacity for doing good.

The plot: A ragged, angry Denver Moore grew up as a sharecropper on a Louisiana plantation. Ron Hall is a highly-affluent Texas art dealer who has cheated on his wife, Deborah, who evinces unconditional love by taking Ron back. She persuades Ron to work with her at a homeless shelter. While dishing food to outcasts on a squalid feeding line, the couple meets a certifiably dangerous Denver, one bad dude whom other homeless steer clear of. With time, these three main characters are changed forever.

So how did the book become a movie?

Stephen Johnston made a whole lot of money pretty early in life because he's so darn talented and daring. He can inspire people to see possibilities they otherwise wouldn't, and they often buy into Stephen's vision. He can sit down with any international powerbroker and more than hold his own. And he's a family man to boot.

Stephen with wife Melissa in their Jackson home. Credit: Mississippi Christian Living

So after selling his international Jackson-based company years ago, he asked: What am I going to do with all of this cash and free time? For one, he started a nonprofit called "Everybody Can Help Somebody."

But what was next for his business career?

He found his new calling in bringing Same Kind of Different as Me to the big screen. (Stephen's personal story is well told in Mississippi Christian Living.)

Stephen has never been known to do anything with less than excellence. I know this because Stephen is a friend. In fact, Stephen is on the board of my organization that publishes Mississippi Matters.

Though I know Stephen, I was very concerned about how the movie would turn out. I just can't fake it when I don't like something. I worried—what if this movie is, gulp, bad? After all, Stephen by his own admission was a movie-business neophyte. What would I say to him if I thought his movie stunk?

With angst I wondered—"Will this be another half-baked, poorly filmed bomb by a well-meaning Hollywood outsider hoping to insert good values into movies?"

Then I attended the Mississippi premier.

Here's my report: If this movie doesn't inspire viewers, then they need an emotional EKG.

The message builds subtly yet strongly without giving you that schmaltzy feeling that some “wholesome” films end up offering. You know the feeling: it's that "they-tried-their-best" reflex.

Paramount joined with Stephen and his Texas, Mississippi and Georgia investors. They secured a top director plus the key ingredient to this movie's splendid recipe: four great actors.

  • Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Renée Zellweger

  • Academy Award nominee Djimon Hounsou

  • Academy Award and multiple Golden Globe winner Jon Voight

  • Academy Award nominee Greg Kinnear

Their compelling performances elevate the character-driven film. They drill down into viewers' cores and prove transformation is possible.

So how can I convince you to see this film?

I actually believe that when your friends begin begging you to, you'll take note. And, of course, if you're a local who attends, you'll enjoy spotting familiar area sites.

But let me say, I'm tough on movies and books. In the quiet of my home, happily sunk in my reading chair, the book Same Kind of Different as Me ripped at my cynicism and replaced it with hope. It cleared the highest bar.

As for the movie, it did that all over again.

But this time around, I was happily sunk in a cozy theater chair. And this time around, I could hear a soft, genuine sound coming just two chairs down. It was a woman weeping.

But the best recommendation I can offer came from reviews after a special screening by hundreds of homeless in Fort Worth. An article's headline summed it up: "Homeless residents share popcorn, tears at screening of movie."

Isn't that funny—maybe I'm not so different from them.

Perhaps you'll leave Same Kind of Different as Me thinking the same thing.

To find the closest theater showing Same Kind of Different as Me, click

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