2 out of 4 stars
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Shepherding Cassie, a feature-length film script by Michael Oborn, explores the hurtful—and possibly fatal—impact of religious fanaticism, sexual prejudice, buried secrets, and tenuous family ties on the lives of a 60-year-old ex-convict and his granddaughter, Cassie.
The story unfolds on the day Obediah “Obie” Shepherd is paroled from prison. Loathed by his son, Laurence, shunned by most of the community, and bullied by a vindictive sheriff, Obie stubbornly returns to the small town of Deuteronomy to start his life over. His arrival is fortuitous, as Laurence—who is also the town’s pastor—plans to commit nine-year-old Cassie to a clinic that allegedly “fixes sexually-conflicted people.” Laurence suspects his little girl—who has short hair, wears jeans, doesn’t play with dolls, and excels at gymnastics—is a lesbian, and the clinic offers a window of opportunity to save his precious child’s soul. Outraged, Obie stakes his freedom and his life to save Cassie from this fate. Amidst the other characters’ indifference, helplessness, and zealotry, Obie, a handyman by trade, is grounded by the simple wisdom of the words, “You don’t need to fix what’s not broken.”
For the most part, Oborn succeeds in expanding a provocative premise into a would-be movie that combines family drama, action, and a smidgen of suspense. The story is multilayered, with several running plotlines that will get readers asking, “What crime sent Obie to prison? What caused the rift between Laurence and his father? What ties does a religious organization have with a venom expert?” Oborn teases readers with these tidbits of mysteries and makes effective use of flashbacks and foreshadowing to weave the answers in the fabric of the story. He captures the rigid and stifling vibe of small-town living, and he populates his town with a cast of characters that may not be as memorable as gruff Obie, rigid Laurence, or sweet Cassie, but were at least instrumental in moving the plot forward.
The promise of a story focused on gender stereotypes and the misuse of psychology was what drew me to the script. These issues, however, were neither fully explored nor given as much consideration as I’d expected. Was Cassie a homosexual, as her father feared? Did she think of herself in that way? I wish there had been more focus on Cassie’s sexual identity crisis. Also, how has a clinic gotten away with using a stigmatized type of treatment to “cure” something that has long been declassified as a mental illness? Why are authorities in the town, even a judge who should know better, incapable of helping Cassie? Had the story been set in the 1950s instead of modern-day Utah, these key details holding the plot together would make more sense.
These issues aside, there were also numerous spelling and word usage errors in the text. Words ending in -cle were erroneously written with -cal (e.g., vehical/vehicle, receptical/receptacle, and manical/manacle), and letters were often omitted from several words (e.g., cemetry/cemetery, immediatly/immediately). Not counting punctuation issues, there were at least two spelling or typographical errors per page, which is more than sufficient to impact the rating of this work.
For the various errors mentioned, some key details that I find questionable, and a promising premise that wasn’t fully realized, I rate Shepherding Cassie 2 out of 4 stars. If partial points can be awarded, 2.5 stars will be a fair score for this screenplay. However, the number of editing issues (most of which can be corrected by running a simple spellcheck in MS Word) forces me to round down the rating. Readers of family dramas might find this worth a perusal, as there are secrets to be uncovered in the Shepherd family’s past. However, those looking for an in-depth portrayal of sexuality issues might find the “evil psychiatrist” trope comical, the characters unrelatable, and the plot superficial.
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