Posted: 06/21/2009


Imagine That

by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

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If all the cuddly, feel-good, nurturing, bonding, fantastic moments shared between Eddie Murphy and his daughter in Imagine That could be bottled, then certainly the world would be a better place.

In Imagine That, Murphy plays financial executive Evan Danielson, who’s looking to make greater inroads at work, as he battles for prominence in the firm that’s headed by Ronny Cox, who plays Tom Stevens. Thomas Haden Church plays Johnny Whitefeather, Murphy’s nemesis at work; whose grandstanding and fake Native American antics prove to be his professional downfall.

Murphy stumbles upon what’s perceived as make-believe magic that seems to be the one thing, along with her security blanket, that keeps his 7-year-old daughter, Olivia, played by Yari Shahidi, sane, as she comes to spend a few days at Murphy’s home.
Imagine That is such a great down-to-earth family movie, across the board. It shows the bonding between Murphy and Shahidi; a relationship between Murphy and his best friend and his family; as well as the commitment of a divorced couple to work together to make sure that the young girl is the centerpiece and that her needs are met.

Now, at first Murphy isn’t that enthusiastic about taking care of his daughter, and he has a maid who makes thing much easier. And once he lets go and finds that comfort level; things get crazy—but this wackiness only serves to strengthen the father-daughter relationship.
Shahidi is an adorable little girl, who seems to love her security blanket and imaginary princess friends more than her father. But this blanket gives way to a magical world that somehow provides Murphy with stock tips that keep him on his game at work—finding him favor with his boss and clients.
This is Shahidi’s first movie, after having honed her 9-year-old acting skills doing commercials and print ads. She uses her charms to bring Murphy closer to her, as he’s always busy with work—using three monitors in his home office, with constantly vibrating Blackberry to boot.
But one day when Shahidi visits her father at his office, he offers up a stock tip about a marriage between two firms (that had earlier been depicted in a drawing by Shahidi), and this tip turns out to be a money maker.

After it’s discovered that Shahidi’s security blanket has magical powers, Murphy becomes obsessed—even to the brink of breaking into his buddy’s home during a kid sleepover to confiscate the blanket—and this act saddens his daughter and brings shame to Murphy, as he’s caught trying to sneak out of the house.
But in the end, Murphy redeems himself in the eyes of his daughter, and her mom, played by Nicole Ari Parker, and his friends. And somehow throughout the madness, he also triumphs at work to become the head of his own division.
One classic scene has Murphy and Shahidi preparing pancakes; it illustrates Murphy’s comedic timing, as well as shows what has made him a great funnyman.

If any lessons can be gleaned from Imagine That, it’s that family comes first and the love between a father and his daughter can be strengthened and displayed in creative ways.
Murphy is great in this movie, after having what I think has been dismal success lately in Hollywood. Shahidi is on the road to stardom also; she’s simply adorable!
And the storyline is one that’s—although magical—still believable in a world where too many children are without their fathers. It’s just a simple plot, with a young girl seeking to find her place in her father’s stressful life.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.

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