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Movie Review: “Old Fashioned” Is a Beautiful Modern Love Story

Old Fashioned tells the story of Clay and Amber, two very flawed people who are trying romance God's way this time.
Old Fashioned tells the story of Clay and Amber, two very flawed people trying to find their beloved God’s way this time.

It’s Valentine’s Day weekend and you’re so excited to see the latest romantic movie! Should you see the much-anticipated porno so graphic the female lead doesn’t want her parents to see it? And whose male lead felt so dirty while researching his part that he had to shower before touching his wife and children?

Or do you see Old Fashioned, a new romantic film you will not only want to share with your spouse, but with your teenage children, too? And probably own and rewatch several times?

I previewed Old Fashioned about a month ago, and am recommending that every Christian–indeed, every person who still believes in true love–to see it in theaters as soon as possible. (Visit this link for theaters and tickets.) The movie tells the story of Clay Walsh (Rik Swartzwelder), a former frat boy once infamous for his reckless and sex-drenched carousing. Having now given his life to God, Clay spends his days running an antique shop in a small Midwestern town, where he notoriously shares his lofty and outdated theories on love and romance with anyone who will listen.

"Mr. Walsh, the world wants to know: 'When are you going to kiss her?'"
“Mr. Walsh, the world wants to know: ‘When are you going to kiss her?'”

Then Amber Hewson (Elizabeth Ann Roberts) drifts into town and rents the apartment above Clay’s shop. This free-spirited young woman with a restless soul finds herself surprisingly intrigued by her new landlord’s faith and noble ideas–and by him. And though Clay tries to fight his own attraction to Amber, he can’t help but be drawn to her spontaneous and passionate embrace of life.

As Clay learns, though, there’s a world of difference between avoiding sexual sin in theory…and actually living God’s glorious plan of chastity out with a beautiful, flesh-and-blood woman before you. Amber, too, must overcome her fears and old habits of relating to men. Together, Clay and Amber attempt the impossible: an “old-fashioned” and God-honoring courtship in contemporary America.

I love wholesome movies, but far too many “Christian”-themed films fall prey to sounding forced and preachy. The Christians tend to be whitewashed, too, along with their minor, often inconsequential problems. And God knows they never have existential crises of faith! The result is usually a film that preaches to the choir (and even then, not too effectively). And that is so self-consciously overbearing that it comes across as condescending and off-putting to non-Christians.

I was pleased that Old Fashioned avoided these pitfalls. While Clay can sound preachy at times when he shares his romantic wisdom with Amber and friends, you can’t help but sense that this avowed Christian is deeply flawed and trying to save himself more than anyone else. Swartzwelder brilliantly presents an honorable yet deeply lonely man, whose faith hasn’t lessened the guilt he still bears over sexually abusing women in his youth. Like so many of us, Clay yearns for love, but has to be convinced he deserves it.

Elizabeth Ann Roberts is radiant as Amber.
Elizabeth Ann Roberts is radiant as Amber.

Roberts is absolutely luminous in her role as Amber. Deeply wounded by her past relationships, Amber nonetheless has a joie de vivre and spiritual openness about her that makes her interest in Clay and his faith entirely believable. That’s one of the best things about Old Fashioned, in fact: the characters are entirely credible. No plastic, one-dimensional caricatures here. I like, too, that supporting roles are comprised mostly of likable, authentic characters who are on their own spiritual journey, just as Clay and Amber are.

Old Fashioned isn’t your typical Hollywood fare. The couple doesn’t have sex or even make out. There are no whips and chains, unless you count the sins and wounds that make Clay and Amber so convincing as people and as a couple. Love is patient, love is kind…love is Old Fashioned. Go see it while it’s in theaters–and send a message to Hollywood that true chivalry–and true love–are making a comeback!

 

 

 

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Movie Review: The Identical

Without realizing it, Ryan Wade begins impersonating his twin brother, Drexel Hemsley.
Without realizing it, Ryan Wade (Blake Rayne) begins impersonating his twin brother, Drexel Hemsley.

Yesterday, I enjoyed an advanced screening of The Identical, a new film by City of Peace Films. The movie stars several big-name actors, including Ray Liotta, Seth Green, and Ashley Judd.

I was intrigued by the premise of The Identical even before seeing it because my mother was an avowed Elvis Presley fan. Few people know that Elvis had a twin that died soon after birth. This fictional movie asks the question, “What if Elvis’s brother hadn’t died, but the two were actually separated at birth and grew up apart?”

The Identical begins with a young, poor, and newly married couple having twin boys during the Great Depression. Soon after their birth, the father attends a tent revival meeting where a traveling minister (Ray Liotta) asks the congregation to pray for him and his wife (Ashley Judd), whose prayers for a child have gone unanswered.

There’s a heartrending scene when the father of the twin boys tells the mother that he thinks they ought to offer one of the boys to the minister and his wife to raise. “We can barely feed ourselves,” he says. “With one child, we can just make it.” The mother violently resists, but comes to see the necessity of her husband’s proposal and agrees to adopt one of the boys out to the other couple.

I’ve rarely seen a film that treats infertility or adoption realistically. The Identical, however, captured the unspeakable agony of spirit inherent in both miscarriage and in handing your child to someone else to raise. The adoption in particular was treated sensitively and without the usual rose-colored glasses; you really sensed the profound, ongoing loss of the birth mother, as well as the humble gratitude of the adopted mother, in this movie.

The baby who stayed with his natural parents goes on to become iconic rock ‘n’ roll star, Drexel “The Dream” Hemsley, but scenes of his rising stardom are only shown to parallel and punctuate the true story, and that’s the spiritual journey of his adopted brother, Ryan Wade. Having grown up and faced down his father’s plans for him to become a preacher, too, Ryan is relentlessly drawn toward a career in music. He goes on to–ironically–work as a Drexel Hemsley impersonator called “The Identical.” Eventually he discovers his true identity, but not before spending much time and energy trying to figure out God’s unique calling for him.

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The Identical shows the pain of both miscarriage and losing a child through adoption with a poignancy that few films today do.

The core issues of the movie–forming your identity and discovering God’s unique plan for your life–are especially likely to resonate with teens, who are dealing with these same issues for themselves. The movie is exceptionally clean, too–there’s no cursing, only one kiss (at a wedding and it’s the bride and groom), no violence, and no sexual content. The main character never devolves into damaging, sinful choices. In fact, his eschewing of alcohol during times of temptation and high stress are especially good messages for teenagers. Franciscan University of Steubenville is offering a free downloadable youth discussion guide for parents and youth ministers to use after seeing the movie.

The movie isn’t likely to break records; it’s devoid of all the sex, violence, and special effects that usually make for box office hits. But it’s a heartfelt, very human story that in many ways mirrors the quest we all are on to “find ourselves” when we become adults. The acting of Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd is splendid and I found myself tearing up at the end when the truth is revealed to Ryan about his origins.  The movie works on many levels, with its true strength being that its story can appeal to youth, parents, adoptive parents, birth parents, adopted children, siblings, Christians, and just about anyone with a dream.

If we want Hollywood to make more family-friendly films that explore real spiritual issues , then we need to support movies like The Identical. So go see the movie, which will be out in theaters on Friday. And enjoy that rare film that makes you think and whose characters aren’t ashamed to ask the most important question of all: “Who does God want me to be?”

For the trailer and more information about The Identical, visit the film’s website at http://theidenticalmovie.com/

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Ray Liotta gives an outstanding performance as a passionate Protestant minister.