Timely headlines can either augment a truth-based movie’s effect or ironically act as the real-world prism through which we say about a lesser film, “Why am I not as moved as I should be?” The latter is, sadly, the case with “Saint Judy,” a well-meaning but cliché-ridden fictionalized account of how Los Angeles-based immigration attorney Judy Wood (Michelle Monaghan) tenaciously argued for asylum status for an Afghan woman (Leem Lubany) persecuted in her homeland for operating a school for girls.
Writer Dmitry Portnoy (who interned for the real Judy Wood) and director Sean Hanish think they have an “Erin Brockovich” on their hands as immigration law upstart and single mom Judy detaches from her cynical boss (Alfred Molina), starts her own shingle, then latches on to a case she ultimately believes could lead to the designation of women targeted in other countries as a protected status under U.S. asylum law.
But what “Saint Judy” really feels like is the pilot for a run-of-the-mill broadcast network drama about a plucky attorney, an antagonistic ex-husband (Peter Krause) who’s her moral opposite, the other-side lawyer (Common) she flirts with, and the son she’s trying to raise right. The early glimmers of something soulful and sobering — rooted in investigative details and detention center realities — ultimately give way to the tired mechanics of give-it-all uplift. Monaghan is effectively cast because of her intelligent grit, but as depicted here, Judy Wood’s hard road to the 9th Circuit is also a path to the ninth circle of biopic blandness.
Rated: PG-13, for thematic material and language
Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes
Playing: In limited release