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!