Grace Unplugged: Ken Morefield Has Written Today’s Must-Read Film Review

Sometimes artists dare to do the hard work of reaching up to catch the truth’s edge in a way that enlarges our vision.

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.

Morefield says,

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…

[NOTE: My Comment Policy will be enforced.]

 

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.

  • kennethrmorefield

    Thank you for the shout out, Jeff.

    I actually appreciated Dave’s comment (at CT). It showed he read to the end of the review, acknowledged that I pointed out there are some who will like/enjoy/esteem the film, and (by inferences) demonstrated that a good review can provide enough information for the reader to make an informed decision rather than just tell everyone what my decision was.

  • Author Jonathan Ryan

    Thanks for posting this, Jeffrey. I’ve had my fill of this movie, believe me…..

  • Kristy Ezinga Quist

    I wrote similar thoughts about “Courageous” a couple of years ago. http://www.thebanner.org/tuned-in/2011/09/courageous

    • http://letterofliberty.blogspot.com/ Anand Venigalla

      As to your review on Courageous, I don’t think it was a masterpiece, but I thought it was OK. And I think you failed to mention how it seemed to condone arresting other people for drug possession, particularly in a scene when one of the police officers was arrested merely for possession of drugs.

  • Mark Moring

    And . . . just wait till my review of Linsanity, also marketed to faith-based audiences, posts in the next day or two.


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