19 April 2014

Quickie Movie Review: "Grace Unplugged"

Rated: PG for thematic elements and brief teen drinking
Starring: A.J. Michalka, James Denton, and Kevin Pollak
Released: October 4, 2013 (theaters) / February 11, 2014 (DVD and Blu-Ray)
Years ago, Johnny Trey (James Denton) was living the rock star life, thanks to his one hit song...but, after hitting rock bottom, he gave his life to God.  Now playing in a Christian worship band, he and his headstrong daughter Grace (A.J. Michalka of Aly & A.J./.78violet) argue nonstop.  To get away, Grace jets to L.A. to pursue a mainstream singing career.  While there, she meets Quentin (Michael Welch), a guy who found Christ through one of Grace and Johnny's performances.  Grace wants to make it big, but she is uncomfortable with the lifestyle she is supposed to live.  Will she realize her mistake before it's too late?

My Review (Warning: Spoilers!)
I'm going to do away with the usual content concerns; there are plenty of other sites that have such reviews.  All I'll say on the moral content is that the themes aren't for the VeggieTales crowd; however, the rest of this will be an artistic criticism.

Ever since I first heard about the movie Grace Unplugged, I wanted to see it.  It came and went in cinemas fairly quickly, but, thanks to the library, I was able to rent it on DVD.   It had a lot going for it: a former Disney actress as the lead, appearances by big-name Christian musicians Jamie-Grace and Chris Tomlin, and a soundtrack featuring TobyMac and Nine Lashes.  I started watching it while eating breakfast yesterday morning, and it caught my interest...but, by the midpoint of the film, which I reached just before starting my shift, I was a bit tired of it.  Still, I pressed on, and really liked how the movie was shaping up...until the final, "two years later" epilogue scene.  Before that, Grace had realized that she was running from God, causing her to abandon those who cared about her; that is, her parents and her friends.  To rectify her mistake, she moves back home and gives up on her mainstream singing career.  Well, a mere twenty-four months later, she is engaged and is touring with Chris Tomlin.

First off: Even in the Christian music world, it is not easy to become a superstar.  For all of the TobyMacs, the Relient K, and the Rebecca St. Jameses, there are plenty of Christian artists whose music continues to struggle to find an audience.   I used to have the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music, and you have no idea how many groups or solo acts featured in there had only released one or two albums before fading out completely.  I bet you there are some Christian musicians I like of which many of you CCM fans have never even heard.

My biggest complaint, however, is this: Like many Christian movies--Flywheel, Facing the Giants, etc.--Grace Unplugged features a protagonist who chooses to follow God...and everything magically works out for him (okay, in this case, her.) That's not necessary; God's Not Dead and The Imposter--both of which are wonderful Christian movies--didn't use that plot device, and it was to their benefit.   People who are unsaved might see a movie such as Grace Unplugged and be led to believe that, if only they choose to follow Christ, they'll be happily married and successful within a few years.  That's not the way it works; I became a Christian over a decade ago, and I still face many of the same struggles that I did prior to that.  Did I end up engaged two years after I was baptized? Was I magically cured of my "odd" habits after coming up out of the water?  No and no; if anything, the bullying I faced from others became more brutal after I became a Christian, much like the temptation Jesus faced after his baptism.  Even those who do get married shortly after becoming Christians still do face struggles, because, from what I've heard and read, marriage isn't some fairy tale; a recent article in In Touch magazine--the Christian one, not the celebrity gossip rag--described it as the exact opposite.  If Christian movie makers want to succeed, they need to show Christian life as it really is, not what everyone wishes it would be.

Score: 1/5

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