What happens when a true story becomes a book which is turned into a movie? A real occurrence can influence the world to view things differently, which can create significant change.
From the outside, the Hall family had it all together. They had the perfect life. They were the family that everyone looked up to, admired and wanted to emulate. But, when an affair surfaces, the perception of perfection becomes tainted. Yet, how the family faces this heartbreak brings upon more admiration from outsiders looking in.
Debbie Hall chooses to forgive her husband, Ron, if he agrees to rebuild their relationship – on her terms. He must join her in volunteering at a local homeless shelter to put some shared purpose back into their marriage. “One of the things that I love about this story is that there’s so many themes of healing. There’s spiritual healing, there’s literal healing and with Debbie and Ron it’s about a longtime relationship that is severely damaged and is worthwhile and worth the effort to repair. By sharing this mission to help other people, they come together again,” says Renee Zellweger who plays Debbie. “I’m a hopeless romantic sucker at heart and I found that to be beautiful.”
Volunteering doesn’t satisfy Ron, so he begins to push against her wife until she has a wild dream about a strange man she’s never seen before. When the couple meets this homeless drifter, Denver, Debbie stretches her husband’s willingness to give and see beyond himself by driving him to reach out to this estranged man from her dream. Both men are hurting and have created a façade about their true identity – but opportunity for significant change awaits.
Ron Hall says, “I spent most of my life as an art dealer. I became wealthy as an art dealer. But my friendship with Denver made me rich. No matter what I do the rest of my life, my life is going to be defined as Denver’s friend. This pleases me to no end because I loved the man and he loved me. We had a very special friendship.”
On the outside, this story can be perceived as a connection between an art dealer and a homeless man. But, similar to much of life, there’s a woman behind the story too. “This is a story about three people,” Producer/Writer Michael Carney explains. “Without Debbie, there would not be a story – and most people were immediately going to do this book as a buddy film with these two dudes. My take was those guys would have never been together without this incredible woman – she was the anchor of the film.” It was this triangular relationship that formed a deeper knowledge within Ron that helping others is more about relationships than it is money. Ron realized that giving money wasn’t as important as giving of himself. “Look, we need checks, and those homeless missions need checks, but they also need our hands,” Carney continues. “Debbie was not going to let Ron get off the hook anymore by just writing checks. She was going to make him pay with his hands. He had to go down there, he had to get his hands dirty, and she was going to make him write a big check, too.”
“She was fearless,” Renée Zellweger says simply. “She truly believed that kindness begets kindness, and her mission was to make a change within this community, that it might look at homelessness and homeless people and their circumstances in a different light. That’s where it all begins. It begins with one person making a decision to put their hands on something, or into something, that needs fixing, and recognizing their own ability to have an effect. And it trickles down from there. You empower someone else, and they empower someone else, and it goes on and on. If somebody’s having a better day because you made the choice to be kind, that’s no small impact. It reverberates. And we need that.” In the film, we see this reverberation as the entire city is slowly changed.
“If you want to see a world change, then you have to be involved in the change,” Ron adds. “And it takes love to do that. You can feed a homeless person; you can put new socks on his feet and gloves on his hands, and provide him with brand new clothes, but that doesn’t change a person. The only thing that will ultimately change a person is to love them, and to not give up on them.” It’s this love that Debbie saw in the heart of all people. She firmly believes that everyone has the capacity for good if given the change.
“What an exceptional person that she’s able to see people in their best light,” Zellweger says about her character. “She’s able to look past whatever damage causes them to be fearful in the world and act out. It’s inspiring.”
Whether in a movie, a book, a blog post or a TV spot, change impacts people. When we see people stand up for good, we are inspired, motivated and empowered to do the same. Pick up your torch and light the way to change in your community.