‘Old Fashioned’ Hopes and Fears

Who doesn’t love romance? As a culture, we’re obsessed with it. We try to groan every time a new romantic comedy comes out, but we secretly get the warm and fuzzies after we watch it on Netflix … or in a movie theater by ourselves. But Christians looking to pursue God-centered relationships that eventually lead to God-centered marriages don’t have too many role models in modern rom-coms.

Enter “Old Fashioned,” a new romantic comedy from Skoche Films hitting U.S. theaters Feb. 13, the same day as that other big-budget “romance” about glorified domestic violence.

OK, short synopsis: Antique store owner Clay was a chauvinist frat boy until he found Jesus and developed his own Joshua Harris-style ideas about love and courtship. Will o’ the whisp Amber moves into the apartment above his store, and … you can guess where this is going.

I’m a Catholic Christian, but I’m not obliged to like or support all forms of media marketed as “Christian” (for a further explanation, check out this awesome video from Blimey Cow.) I’ve recently started to watch more Christian films, and in general, they range from the harmlessly mediocre to the downright offensive — don’t get me started on “God’s Not Dead.”

However, after watching the trailer for “Old Fashioned,” my cold, cynical, secular heart began to feel the same warm and fuzzies I used to get from romantic comedies. I’m a sucker for love stories, but when two characters in a romantic comedy share a few shallow lines of dialogue, hook up and then suddenly have a long-lasting, healthy relationship, I scratch my head. There is definitely a need for romantic comedies that show women and men taking dating slowly and treating each other with respect and dignity. However, Christian films also need to rise above the level of “good … for a Christian movie.”

With this in mind, “Old Fashioned” could restore my faith in Christian films if …

1. … the script doesn’t feel like it was cut-and-pasted from the pastor’s Sunday sermon notes.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful to the work that pastors and priests put into their sermons. However, many Christian movies I’ve seen have deserved the label “preachy.” An audience doesn’t like to be talked at. After watching these films, I feel reprimanded rather than entertained. I’m not saying that a film’s sole purpose is entertainment or that churches shouldn’t use popular media to connect with their members. However, Christian artists should focus on producing quality content just as much as spreading their message. Christian films don’t get a pass on screenwriting guidelines; they still need to develop plot and characters to their full potential, which brings me to …

2. … the characters are relatable and well-rounded; not all Christian characters are saints, and not all non-Christian characters are demons, or worse, “projects.”

Any practicing Christian will tell you that they are not perfect; anyone who says otherwise is kidding themselves. Following Jesus Christ is not easy, and faith is a life-long journey that can’t be completed in the span of a two-hour movie. So why, in so many Christian films, are all Christian characters automatically “good guys” and all non-Christian characters automatically “bad guys”? Real people aren’t as black-and-white as that. Judging from the trailer, “Old Fashioned” could be taking a step in the right direction, as Amber, by all indications, is not a Christian. My only hope is that the movie doesn’t make her a pet project for Clay to convert. If the filmmakers want the audience to believe in these characters, they need to write them as real people who struggle and sin but also dust themselves off and try again.

3. … it has other selling points besides being countercultural or “non-secular.”

Once “Old Fashioned” was acquired by Freestyle Releasing, the same distributor of “God’s Not Dead,” it was pitched as a squeaky-clean alternative to the BDSM-filled juggernaut “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and Freestyle even planned to release their film on the same day. Its tagline: “Chivalry makes a comeback.” While this is a smart marketing move, the film needs to stand on its own as a well-made movie. If you want people to have faith in your product’s message, you need to put effort into the product itself. Again, see the Blimey Cow video I mentioned earlier.

4. … it doesn’t preach to the choir.

Last year, I had the great privilege to lead a Christian women’s retreat at my college. That same weekend, one of my best friends from high school was planning a visit. Though she doesn’t really practice any religion, she came on the retreat like the wonderful and supportive friend she is. When I asked her how she liked it, she said some parts, like our praise and worship hour, made her feel out of place, but that she really enjoyed listening to the testimonies of the retreat leaders and meeting some of my friends. Christian films can’t get their message out if their filmmakers are only concerned with adhering to religious dogma. There need to be elements of the story and characters that anyone of any religion can identify with.

5. … you wouldn’t know the difference if the film was made by a secular production company.

HOLD IT BEFORE YOU UNFOLLOW THIS BLOG. Just hear me out. When I say that there should be no difference between a Christian film and a secular film, I don’t mean that Christian filmmakers should jeopardize their values to appeal to the lowest common denominator. On the contrary, they should use their God-given talents to produce quality entertainment that has a Christ-centered message. The trick is finding God in secular media. Themes such as love, sacrifice, friendship, courage and community do exist in Hollywood. It may take a bit of digging, but there are good values in many secular films. Well-made Christian films have the potential to show the film industry that we don’t need to watch sex and violence all the time … and that a popular book series doesn’t necessarily deserve a cinematic adaptation. *cough*

“Old Fashioned” isn’t being released internationally at the moment, but if you’re in the U.S., find a screening near you and check it out this Valentine’s Day weekend!

This time, you get TWO questions! 1) What are your thoughts on “Old Fashioned” or “Fifty Shades of Grey”? 2) Do you know any Christian films that fit the above criteria? Seriously, guys. I need my faith restored in Christian cinema.

Bon Saint Valentin!

– Vicky

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Please March for ALL Life

NOTE: This post is an expression of my opinions and experiences. If you would like to continue this debate in the comments, please do so with respect.

On Sunday, I spent a wonderful day in Paris with two of my French friends. We saw an exhibition on Studio Ghibli at the Musée Art Ludique. I love Hayao Miyazaki’s films, so there was a lot of fangirling involved. We then had a Japanese lunch of sushi and an American dessert of Häagen-Dazs on the Champs-Elysées.

We headed home on the early train, and it was there that the tone of my day changed.

The train was pretty empty. The only other people in the car besides us were a young girl and an older man. They were talking. At first, I was able to pick out snippets of their conversation as I talked to my friends. But as their conversation continued, I sat in silence with bated breath, listening. My two friends also stopped talking to listen, and later, they filled in the gaps of my comprehension.

The girl was 19 years old, with no job and living in a residence hall. She was pregnant. The baby’s father had left.

The man was a nurse. Apparently they had just met. He sat there calmly giving the girl advice as her eyes filled with tears.

I am not describing the situation like this to romanticize it. This is reality. For the first time in my life, I was facing it.

Talking about abortion has often made me sick to my stomach. It’s one of those issues that is so tangled up in emotion that it’s hard to have an objective debate on it.

As a Catholic, I believe all life is sacred and a gift. That being said, I have a huge problem with some sectors of the “pro-life” movement and some politicians who insist on women carrying out the pregnancy at any cost to their physical and mental health. These same people often blame the mother, especially if she is young and unmarried, calling her horrible names and saying hurtful things like, “Well, she asked for it. Maybe if she didn’t sleep around so much, this wouldn’t have happened.”

This. Is. Wrong.

Being pro-life is not the same thing as being anti-abortion. If your only concern is the fetus in the womb, I’m sorry to inform you that you’re doing it wrong. Being pro-life means being pro-birth parents, pro-adoption, pro-immigration, anti-death penalty, anti-euthanasia, pro-sex education, pro-motherhood, pro-fatherhood, pro-woman.

Mary is often used as a poster child for the anti-abortion movement, saying, “Mary was an unwed mother. What if she had gotten an abortion?” This is a poignant example, but many people seem to forget that Mary didn’t have to go through her pregnancy alone. When Joseph, her fiancé, found out she was pregnant, he was “unwilling to expose her to shame” and instead “took his wife into his home.” (Matthew 1:19, 24 NAB)

Pregnant women don’t just need the support of their baby’s father or their families, because unfortunately, many of them don’t have it. Therefore, it’s our collective responsibility to tell them that they are good, beautiful, strong, loved and valuable. That young woman on the train thought she was worthless, diseased, a piece of trash. If society, politicians and the Church are telling her, “We don’t care about you, but you can’t abort your baby,” someone please tell me where she can find the courage to choose life.

Going back to the Mary example, one of the first people who knew about Mary’s pregnancy was her cousin Elizabeth: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leapt in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:41-42) Imagine how many women would choose life if someone told them, “You are beautiful. You are enough. You are valuable. I’m here for you. You can do this.”

For many years now, I’ve felt a call to adoption. A friend from summer camp, whose brother was adopted, said, “There are so many children in this world who don’t have a home. Why don’t we take care of those children first?” Her words have stuck with me, and the young woman on the train further convicted me in this calling. As I listened to her talk to the man, I found myself thinking, “God, if only someone could adopt her baby so that he or she could have a chance!” If I get married, I pray that my husband and I can adopt our children so that these babies and their mothers can have a second chance at life.

Today, thousands are gathered in Washington, D.C. for the annual March for Life. As they march, I pray that they lift up not only the millions of children aborted since Roe v. Wade, but also the mothers and their families.

Abortion is not a political talking point; it’s about real women who need to make real decisions, and no matter what their choice, they need our support.

À bientôt,

Vicky

For another great piece on abortion, please head to Relevant Magazine.

Red High Heels in Church: Some Thoughts on Modesty

I was unstoppable on Wednesday morning. Despite the vampiric sleep schedule my job has inspired this summer, I was up early enough to bake pains au chocolat for an office World Cup party the next day. Then, I put on an adorable outfit that I hadn’t worn to the office yet, and headed off to daily Mass before work. I was hyped until Communion. As I passed through the pew to the aisle, I tried to shake off the wave of self-consciousness that suddenly came over me, as if something about me was impure or improper, and not worthy to be seen by our Lord. Embarrassed, I looked down, and I saw the suspects: my cherry red, faux-suede pumps.

I had put them on that morning thinking they added a much-needed pop of color to my black-and-white dress. But now, I was convinced, the people around me must think I was going to hit the bars after Mass! Why, oh why, I asked myself, didn’t I stick with sensible flats? Why couldn’t I be more MODEST?

Hitherto, I’ve avoided talking about modesty on this blog because I was never sure how to go about it. It’s a topic that is under frequent discussion in women’s ministry, and it can very easily be mishandled, or in extreme cases, dissolve into blaming and criticizing our sisters in Christ. Then there are conflicting ideas about what constitutes modest dress: Should I not wear makeup or jewelry? Can I still wear shorts in the summer? Throw in the recent discussions in the media about sexual assault on college campuses and sexist dress codes in middle and high schools, and the word “modesty” becomes almost as despicable as the word “patriarchy.”

Let me be clear: A short skirt or a low-cut top is NOT an invitation. NOBODY, no woman, ever “deserves” assault. Period. 

Moving on. Recently I’ve discovered how much I hate the popular phrase “modest is hottest.” I don’t choose to dress modestly because I think it’ll attract more guys, nor because I’m ashamed of my body. I choose to dress modestly because it makes me feel comfortable and beautiful — not “hot,” beautiful. And guess what? Modesty is NOT just a “women’s issue.” That’s right, men should strive to be modest as well, in their dress as well as in their thoughts and actions. I also don’t think that dressing modestly makes me better than anyone else; trying to “out-modest” other women completely misses the point!

What point is that? Well, I should get back to my story at Mass. I went through Communion as usual, acutely aware of the clomp-clomp my heels made on the tile floor. I was mortified. After Mass was over, I walked to the statue of our Blessed Mother. My Confirmation name is Marie, and in every church I visit, I look for a statue of Mary.

I hadn’t even finished my usual Hail Mary before I heard a voice in my heart say, “You’re thinking too much about your heels. I would rather you focus on being a bride of Christ in your heart.”

I was stunned. I looked up into the statue’s face.

“My daughter,” the voice continued. “Don’t you know that you are beautiful? That you are a bride of Christ?”

“But Mama Mary,” I protested. “How can I be a bride of Christ if I don’t dress like one?”

“Even if you were wearing the skimpiest and shabbiest outfit in the world, you would STILL be a bride of Christ, a daughter of the King of Kings. Therefore, stand tall, hold your head up, and act like one.”

True modesty is not covering up to give the illusion of holiness; it is allowing our inner life, our spiritual life, to manifest itself on the outside.

Coincidentally, the Gospel that day was the passage from Matthew, Ch. 6 where Jesus talks about hypocrisy: “When you dress, do not be like the hypocrites who break out a tape measure and compare the width of their neighbors’ spaghetti straps to their own, or the length of their neighbor’s skirt to their own. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward.”

OK, that’s not actually what it says. But the same ideas expressed in that chapter can be very easily applied to modesty. If we don’t act, think and feel modestly in our “inner room,” how are we supposed to show true modesty to the rest of the world?

I’m not saying that modesty should not be talked about, but that it shouldn’t be just a dress code; it should be a code of honor.

We are the daughters and sons of a King. We have the dignity of royalty. So let’s hold our heads high and act like it.

And I’m totally wearing my red heels next year on Pentecost Sunday.

A plus!

– Vicky

How do you practice modesty aside from your physical appearance? Share in the comments below!