Sometimes artists give in to what’s easy, handing down what the audience wants to hear — and they’re applauded by the choir to which they preach.
Here’s how Ken Morefield begins his review of Grace Unplugged at Christianity Today…
A host at the screening of Grace Unplugged I attended pleaded with the audience to buy out a movie theater auditorium for the film’s opening night. We were chastised for going to see The Hunger Games, which, we were told, evangelical Christians frequented at a higher rate than any other demographic. Wouldn’t we rather have more movies like Grace than more movies like Hunger? Better reach for our wallets. Otherwise, we had only ourselves to blame when our daughters started emulating Katniss Everdeen.
I’ve always found this kind of cause marketing puzzling. It seems to tacitly admit that the product is not good enough to sell tickets on its own. I’m not against niche marketing; there is actually something a little refreshing about seeing a Christian film stop worrying about crossover appeal and just making the faith content explicit. But doesn’t it still have to be a good movie?
That’s just the beginning. Read the whole thing. It’s another example of how Christianity Today is refusing to join the “circle the wagons” mentality of so much Christian media, and instead engaging art with critical discernment and an insistence on excellence.
It’s not that Grace Unplugged has a bad message: it just doesn’t happen to be a great movie. Because of that, it tries to sell its message, rather than integrate it into a dramatic or entertaining story. And that’s a shame, given how few contemporary family films there are about and for girls. Since Grace is eighteen, I feel like I should cross out “girls” and insert “young women” there, butGrace Unplugged thinks of and treats its heroine as a girl. Grace Trey in the city is treated more like Kevin McCallister in Home Alone 2 than Mary Richards in The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
And yet, Morefield’s review, good as it is, is unlikely to persuade most of the people who are excited about this film. You can see what many of them think about the work of discernment in comments like this one from a guy named Dave:
“I can tell you that the audience I saw the film with adored it.” – proof once again that if a critic doesn’t like it, most people will. I will be going to see the movie – and a bit more excited about it now than before I read the review.
I know what Mark Twain would have said to that:
Whenever you find you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.
And Oscar Wilde might have added:
The public have always, and in every age, been badly brought up. They are continually asking Art to be popular, to please their want of taste, to flatter their absurd vanity, to tell them what they have been told before, to show them what they ought to be tired of seeing…
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