Friday, September 8, 2017

They Finally Made a Decent Movie!

If anyone's been following previous posts, this is not the next in my Planet of the Apes series. I did watch them all, I just haven't gotten around to posting essays for them yet. I still plan to, but in the meanwhile today's post is going to be a plug for another movie recommendation.

If you've paid attention in recent years there has been a push for more Christian or "faith-based" films to be made and released over the last ten years. Once relegated to the direct-to-video market, massive church marketing pushes made films like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Passion of the Christ box office hits and studios have begun to look to that less-tapped market. Independent producers sprung up to supply films to preach to this choir, and unfortunately many have done exactly that. So we got films like God's Not Dead which Evangelical Christians rushed to see in droves, making it one of the top 10 grossing movies of its day, ensuring the inevitable sequel. But for the most part, though these movies may have an audience, in a number of ways they are not very good. I could take the time to tear apart God's Not Dead here (which I did pay to see in a theater), but I will not. Suffice it to say that despite a good cast and an underlying decent premise, it was written in broad strokes, cliches, and served more to placate the Evangelical persecution complex than as any real evangelistic tool (and I say this as an Evangelical). It was primarily a source of mockery outside of the bubble.

Film studios created their own film divisions for these sorts of things. Fox has Fox Faith, which has released several films theatrically and more to DVD. Sony also now owns a "faith-based" division. This company put out Miracles From Heaven last year. While somewhat saccharine, the film was better than the marketing made it seem. Though the trailer gives away the whole thing, most of the movie is not about the miracle described in the trailer. 3/4 of the movie is about what happens before that. So in that regard, it had merit. But there was still something a bit hokey or typical about it. Other films have come and gone to try and capitalize on the religious market, most of which I skipped. Sony will be releasing their animated Christmas feature The Star later this year, and it doesn't look to be anything special either.

But this week I saw a new movie that finally gave me hope. All Saints was released with little fanfare, and you may not have even heard of it, but I am happy to report that they have finally made a "Christian" movie that succeeds as a movie instead of tripping over itself to be Christian. All Saints stars John Corbett as a replacement pastor of a tiny Episcopalian church who is brought in to transition the church's closure, but instead has a radical idea to save the church. It is based on a true story, and shot on location. The movie reunites Corbett with his Northern Exposure co-star Barry Corbin, and it's a bit of a delight seeing Corbett playing off him yet again as a man of the cloth (though very different from his former character). The basic thrust of the film is the notion to turn the land around the church into a working farm to help the people in the community and earn the money to pay off the church's mortgage. Think of it as Field of Dreams without the baseball ghosts.

What I loved about the movie is that while faith is a constant element, as the movie is set in a church and follows religious people, they don't spout random evangelistic messages at the audience. Maybe this is easier to do with more liturgical characters as subjects, but it is so good to casually talk about "God spoke to me" and have the debate about "are you sure it wasn't just you" instead of becoming preachy. Even relatively decent films like Moms' Night Out had the obligatory Jesus monologues thrown in that make it feel like a movie talking at me. I don't need a spoon-fed Aesop fable if a movie is well-made and most of you don't either. All Saints walks the line perfectly and shows that you can tell a good story and make a good film without being obnoxious (a lesson all Evangelical filmmakers need to learn). Cutting through that kind of surface religion that plagues other films of this type allows the movie to have a reality.

And boy, did it feel real to me. Certainly I have a personal connection to the events here because I know all too well what it is to be in a tiny church that is on the verge of closing. When a movie opens with six people in the pews, that hits home for me. Honestly, it was depressing how accurate some of it felt, even down to the way things end, which I will not spoil. I love though that it never cheapens the actual story with some overly saccharine ending that ties everything up. There is a bittersweetness to it that felt all-too-real. And I have to commend it for that.

It's not the most amazing movie I've ever seen, and it doesn't have broad sweeping cinematography or a hummable score. But for a film of this type, a small movie with a story to tell, it is well worth your time. In the class of "faith" films, I would say it succeeds more than any I have yet seen in recent years. It hasn't gotten a lot of press, so I would encourage you to seek it out before its theatrical run ends. Organize church groups for screenings, or just take the family. There are no naughty words or adult situations, just real life and real human interaction with a dash of the divine. It calls to mind classic Hollywood like Lilies of the Field. It will not win any awards and it won't make many top ten lists, but if you want to see these kinds of movies done the right way, the good ones need your support. So I'm throwing my endorsement out for All Saints, and encourage all saints to do the same. Someone finally made a decent Christian movie, and I couldn't be happier.

No comments:

Post a Comment