Valentine’s Day sneaks up on me every year. I don’t usually think on it too seriously until about five minutes before it happens, then I run around in a panic to make a homemade card and figure out which eating establishment is passably romantic.
This year, however, I started thinking about Valentine’s Day early when I was inundated with social media promotions for a new Christian movie called “Old-Fashioned.” Watch the trailer here.
I’m curious. I’ve largely stepped out of the Christian art scene these days, because so much of it is overly-pointed and reliant on stereotypes rather than creativity, but I’d like to think Christian art can still surprise me sometimes.
My goal is to watch the movie when it comes out and give it an honest review. But right now, I’d like to start with an honest review of the movie’s first impressions.
An honest review means looking at both the good and the bad, so I chose a rotating “good/bad/good/bad” format so as not to align myself too strongly with either side before I’ve even seen the film.
Let’s start with something pleasant, yeah?
Good 1—Stylistic Consistency
I give the marketing team kudos; everything about this film screams “old-fashioned,” and not in a bad way. It maintains a feeling of bygone days, of sentimentality, of detachment from a lot of the modern hustle and bustle. That consistency is one thing I admire about the trailer and the marketing campaign.
It starts right away with the logo.
The classic symbol (in our culture, anyway) of male and female, participating in the timeless act of getting engaged, and designed to look like a sweet cartoon done in crayon. It’s simple, to the point, and keeps with the theme of old-fashioned.
The trailer features soothing guitar with gentle vocals. Yes, this style of music is actually pretty popular nowadays, but it’s one of our current musical obsessions that at least maintains a classic style.
The visuals keep it old-school, too. We see the young female protagonist living in a rustic apartment with a tea kettle, gas stove, and rotary phone. Our film’s protagonist does woodworking. Rather than watching TV, checking their phones, or e-mailing each other, this couple chops wood outside, makes homemade shoeboxes with surprises in them, roasts marshmallows, sits on swings at the park.
A+ for consistency in tone, marketers. You knocked this one out of the park.
Bad 1—Failure to Stand On Its Own Strength
The trailer’s fatal flaw—one that spills over into the Facebook marketing campaign—is its reliance on setting itself up against the “50 Shades of Grey” movie, also out on Valentine’s Day.
If the film is good enough to warrant the time, money, and effort to create it, not to mention the price of a movie ticket, it should attract audiences on its own. By selling itself as merely the counter-point to 50 Shades, the film is implying that it only exists to be an antidote for something the audience doesn’t like. I’d rather a film sell itself as a fun and entertaining flick in its own right.
The marketing campaign suffers from this the whole way through. Here’s what the Facebook branch of “Old-Fashioned” has to say about itself:
Fifty Shades of Grey was just rated R for ‘unusual behavior.’ We also have unusual behavior in Old Fashioned, you know, respecting women, the sanctity of marriage and God-honoring romance. On Valentine’s Day will you choose Clay or Grey?
It’s really dangerous to give me a choice like that, because I’m likely to say, “Neither. I choose Indiana Jones,” and spend Valentine’s Day watching that at home. It saves the price of a ticket.
The trailer tells us almost nothing about the story, but instead focuses all its energy on how it’s the opposite of 50 Shades.
Sexy Corporate Mogul
Sincere Small Businessman
Sweet Midwestern Girl With A Cat
The little indie movie that some people have heard of
Brings you a love story that most only dream of
Mr Walsh Will See You Now
Love is anything but Grey.
Okay, so I get that I’m not seeing “50 Shades of Grey,” but what the crap am I seeing? It makes me concerned that the filmmakers may have cared more about being different from 50 Shades than they did about writing well.
Good 2—Good Fit For Target Audience
Most Christian movies market themselves to people who are already Christians, particularly Christians who worry that secular culture is eroding important values.
Based on what I see in this trailer, “Old-Fashioned” will indeed fill a niche with conservative Christian audiences. I’m thinking particularly middle-aged and older Christians who conducted their own dating relationships in the days before text messaging and Facebook invites. When those people see a couple talking over rotary phone, roasting marshmallows, shopping at an old country store, it likely calls up fond memories of their own young love. Who among us can resist a story that reminds us of the good parts of our lives?
Also, slightly younger Christians who are in the dating pool may find this movie encouraging, as it portrays a relationship that doesn’t have to include sex. I am appreciative when a film shows that it’s possible to wait for sex until marriage. Few venues of pop culture portray that as a life option, preferring either to ignore the topic or assume that no emotionally healthy adult would choose that. Although it’s true that many people don’t wait, other people do, and I welcome something that represents that choice as legitimate—so long as it doesn’t get preachy and judge-y about it.
Bad 2—What is “Old-Fashioned” Anyway?
The phrase “old-fashioned” has really thrown me off as I try to decipher what this movie is about.
On the one hand, the trailer seems to portray it mostly as the decision not to have sex. In two different scenes, it’s implied that the woman would like the man to come into her bedroom, and is surprised when he says no. Is waiting for marriage the thing that makes their relationship “old-fashioned”? If so, doesn’t that word defeat the aforementioned purpose of showing abstinence as a valid choice that people still engage in?
On the movie’s web site, the synopsis exclaims that the two protagonists “attempt the impossible: an ‘old-fashioned’ and God-honoring courtship in contemporary America.”
Give. Me. A. Break. It is not “impossible” to have a relationship that honors God just because you live in America. Perhaps it’s impossible to live within a pop culture that supports each and every one of your romantic values, but that doesn’t impede your ability to live by those values. That sentence rubbed me the wrong way, because it was a shameless buzzword plug to make Christians feel riled up, and I hate that kind of manipulation.
The thing that really concerns me about the “old-fashioned” concept is whether it will include an anti-feminist element. Maybe the film will simply portray an abstinent couple who don’t use Facebook and go to church. That’s fine with me. On the other hand, maybe it will portray a man “leading” and a woman deciding that kind of relationship is more romantic than “modern” feminist notions, in which case I’ll start paging through my Bible for a verse that specifically tells men to “lead” their wives (I’ll be paging for a long time, because it doesn’t exist).
I get that notions of male leadership and initiation are part and parcel of church culture in the evangelical world, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
A related question: who is our audience?
I have one more observation that’s neither a good nor a bad, but more a question to the Christian movie industry in general: Who is our audience?
As I described earlier, the audience that will likely be drawn to this film are Christians who already hold to conservative relationship values and worry that they’re being eroded by pop culture. To be honest, I don’t see anything wrong with art that is directed toward a specific religious audience—mine or anyone else’s—so long as it’s good quality and tells the truth about life. I think the Christian masses have settled for less in recent decades, but that’s for another post.
But it bothers me when Christian art seems only interested in professing Christians. Generally, things categorized as “Christian” don’t have an approach or message that would reach someone who didn’t already agree with them.
Take this film, for example. I’d guess that the people who line up to see it would say, if asked, that they believe the 50 Shades crowd need better messages about relationships. That is one of the implied purposes of the film in the marketing campaign. But by belittling and downplaying “50 Shades of Grey,” the marketing campaign alienates the very people it believes need better messages. So, at the end of the day, it really is about bringing in dollars from people who already agree with the scriptwriters, and has very little to do with actually impacting the wider culture outside church doors.
(Edited: I’m not trying to defend 50 Shades as some upstanding story that should be respected; I’m just asking us to consider whether the marketing campaign was really directed at its fans, or directed at people who already hate it).
Despite all this, I promise to give “Old-Fashioned” an honest review, with good old-fashioned sincerity, when I see it next week. I won’t skip the good, I won’t skip the bad. But I still may watch Indiana Jones on Valentine’s night.