The other night my wife asked me to take her out to a movie. This is an incredibly rare occurrence, so within 24 hours of the request we had a babysitter lined up and within 48 hours of the request we were in the cinema watching Old Fashioned. Billed as the “faith-based alternative” to 50 Shades of Grey and tagged as the story of a modern couple who decides to embark on an old-fashioned courtship, its more that just that.
First off, though there are a couple cheesy and preachy parts – its surprisingly light on these for a “faith-based” movie. Even the faith-based part is kind of a misnomer, at least compared to your run-of-the-mill Christian film. The (anti) hero doesn’t attend church because “nobody else there was perfect…so he didn’t fit in.” However, he describes a conversion experience that he says its hard to put into words “without sounding crazy” to which the (all-too-familiar nowadays) “spiritual but not religious” heroine responds, “you are crazy.” We’ve all been there though – that awkward moment right after you yourself or someone you know unexpectedly opens up about a religious experience and you’re not sure what to say next…
The description of the romance between the two main characters is also a bit misleading. The leading man, Clay, is running from a promiscuous past which included notoriety as a producer some videos of college girls at parties, the memories of which haunt him now. He’s had a conversion but hasn’t forgiven himself and, whether out of penance or shame, he tries to lead the “perfect life” full of theories as to how to amend and move on so as to never repeat the mistakes of the past. This includes never being alone with a woman in private and the type of woman he has in mind is nothing like the one he finds in this film.
The leading lady, Amber, is also running from painful relationships in her past. Her answer is to go wherever the wind blows, never settling and moving on when things get too rough. Free spirited and not very grounded, Amber is intrigued by Clay and finds his theories humorous and unrealistic in modern-day society. She doesn’t really want an “old fashioned” relationship but is drawn to Clay.
The plot is somewhat predictable, broken guy meets broken girl, both looking for more. Yet there’s beauty in the way it shows how “messy” the world can be and especially our modern-day hookup culture. There’s no perfect character, though Clay tries hard and realizes that this only makes him boring, and there’s no perfect relationship – much like the real world. Clay’s theories are based on reflections from his past and though some may seem far fetched (“people know more about a person after an interview for a pizza delivery job than they do after a first date”) he plays the holy fool (or cynic) and his thoughts are designed to make us think critically about the dating culture of today (one of Clay’s theories is that “dating is designed to make us good dates…but then what?”). Clay’s closest friends are a serial playboy who hosts a radio show that seems to focus only on objectifying women and a settled down man who has a daughter with the woman he lives with “but still living in sin.” This may seem offensive to some, but Clay tries to walk a line between the two and wants something more. That idea, of wanting more, is what really resonated with me – be it singles, engaged, married, or living together I know plenty of people who feel unfulfilled with the lives they’ve chosen to lead based mostly off of sexual relationships, you see that clearly in the movie.
While Clay comes across as too rigidly puritanical (comically taking Amber to a pastor for marriage prep as a first date) and Amber may be too free-spirited, the two form a good contrast between “justice and mercy.” And besides the romance and social commentary, there’s a lot going on in the movie, and ultimately its not about what we’ve done but who we become. We’re called to become saints and “it’s not easy” as Clay says – the movie portrays that truth well. I was slightly disappointed that Clay’s goal in life is simply to be “decent” and Amber says “there’s enough greatness in the world, but not enough goodness.” Okay, but we can do better- we’re called to be great; to be saints!
The movie isn’t the greatest movie I’ve ever seen, but I’m not big on “faith-based” movies or romances and have never finished watching one saying, “wow, that was great.” Though rated PG-13, its not a movie for younger teens and even older teens would have to have a good grounding in the church’s teachings on sex and marriage before I’d recommend them going. For older teens it may serve as a thought-provoking commentary on the dating scene and hookup culture at a time when they may be exposed to them and faced with numerous, potentially life changing, temptations. Its also a good film for married couples to rekindle, or perhaps to discover, what’s truly important in a relationship. And its certainly a worthy alternative to 50 Shades if you really want to see a true romance with your date.
I’d recommend you check it out, and let me know your thoughts.