The Green Oak Guardian
A comic superhero springs to life, sorta, in this story about a reclusive artist vying with the Hollywood bigshot come to their small Ohio town to make a movie version of her work.
The Green Oak Guardian is a sort of vaguely environmentalist superhero featured in his own comic book, drawn in strong, simple lines like the old Dick Tracy newspaper strips. The movie that bears his name is the tale of his spring to life — sorta — when a Hollywood big shot arrives in town to play the Guardian in a film version.
Grayson Kane (Houston Rhines) is a tall, rugged sort who looks like he should ably fill out a superhero costume. He’s even the son and grandson of other famous film actors to boot. What he doesn’t know is that the artist of the comic book, J.T. McSween, is a crusty old codger who doesn’t care for the idea of a pretty boy actor with a reputation for dodgy behavior playing the icon he created.
At least, that’s what he’s been led to believe. McSween is a recluse, the J.D. Salinger of comic books, and all anyone knows of him is the occasional interviews he gives to the hometown newspaper in Carrollton, Ohio. So Grayson trots off to the small ‘burg to try to charm the old-timer into giving his blessing on the production, which otherwise might get shut down. His last few movies haven’t done so well, and he’s more known for dallying with starlets than box office hits these days.
What the movie star doesn’t know is that J.T. McSween is a pen name for Joanna McSween (Abi Van Andel), a widow who based the Green Oak Guardian on her late husband, a forest firefighter who gave his life to protect others. She lives in a lonesome house with her dad, cheerily gruff Earl (Duffy Hudson), and irrepressible daughter, Audrey (Charlotte Teall).
Joanna guards her privacy fiercely, partly to protect her family, partly in tribute to her husband and partly because she fears her comic books wouldn’t sell to a mostly male audience if they knew a woman wrote and drew the Guardian.
Grayson shows up on their doorstep and assumes that Earl is J.T., and he doesn’t do anything to dissuade him — trying to protect his daughter’s secret. Joanna goes along with it, immediately butting heads with the actor and trading snipes. Though it’s the sort of “I hate you, I hate you” that has a way of falling into “maybe he’s not so bad” and eventually “I think I might love you.”
Micaela Minner plays Tammi, the publisher/editor/only reporter for the local newspaper, and also Joanna’s BFF. That’s a bit of a journalistic conflict, of course. But soon her stories about how J.T. feels about Grayson starring in the adaptation of the Guardian grow softer and more receptive.
Vernon Wells — forever Wez from “The Road Warrior” — turns up as the poncy film director of the Guardian movie, the sort of guy who has to make everything a personal contest. Layla Cushman plays the female star of the movie, who immediately sets out trying to sabotage the whole project and stick herself between Joanna and Grayson’s budding romance.
Decidedly low-budget, “The Green Oak Guardian” has plenty of heart if not a lot of filmmaking polish. Director Lana Read and screenwriter Duane Abel approach the material at more of a TV sitcom level than feature film — think Hallmark Channel fare, with all the lack of storytelling surprises that entails. We also don’t see very much of the Guardian’s life in the comic book beyond a few individual panels — I wanted to find out more about his derring-do.
There are some things to like about this movie, but it always seems to resort to the easiest path available. I’d love to see this story material approached with a little more zest and fighting spirit.