Favorite Fictional Characters, #165: Dr. Benjamin Stone
In 1991, Michael J. Fox's career was at a turning point. He had wrapped his seven-year star-making run on Family Ties in 1989, completed the Back to the Future trilogy, and cemented his status as a reliably shiny star in the movie business. He was getting older, and despite his perpetually young features and boyish charm, he needed to graduate from coming-of-age fare such as Bright Lights, Big City and Secret of My Success. Hard to still be a Teen Wolf when you're thirty years old. In Doc Hollywood, he found a role that allowed him to essentially reprise Alex P. Keaton, and then allow that character to grow into a man.
Fox portrays Dr. Benjamin Stone, a big-time plastic surgeon in Washington, D.C. who heads to Los Angeles to make it even bigger nipping and tucking the stars. On the way, he is derailed by livestock and crashes into rural Grady, South Carolina. A series of obstacles ensnare Stone in the small town, not the least of which is the beguiling Vialula (played with sultry earnestness by a very appetizing Julie Warner). Despite his ambitions, despite his desire to flee his own small-town Indiana upbringing, Stone feels a pull to the wholesome values and tight-knit community of Grady, not to mention Vialula's charms. But this less about boy-meets-girl, boy-chooses-girl. This is about choosing what kind of life Stone wants for himself. Like Keaton, Stone was drawn to money and power and glamor, but it was never really the right fit for a fundamentally good heart and kind soul. He finds a place in Grady where he can make a difference, not just in faces but in lives.
For anyone who's been faced with decisions in their own life about whether to have a tiny impact on a huge stage, or a deep, lasting one on a more intimate scale, this movie has wisdom to share. (By the way, if anybody else got deja vu watching Pixar's Cars, you're not alone. It's essentially a remake of this film.) There's the expressway, and there's the local lane. Both have their pitfalls and their rewards. But I know which I would choose, and have always chosen. I can't wait to get back to it.