This film drew quite a bit of Christian buzz when it came out last year, and it focuses on the music industry, so I thought I’d check it out and review it for you guys. Here’s the premise: Johnny Trey, a one-time one-hit rock star, has left the Hollywood life behind him, kicked drugs, and settled down in a small town to raise a family. Now he serves as a worship pastor at his church. His daughter, 18-year-old Grace, shows musical promise but chafes under her father’s strict regulations for the band. When daddy’s old manager offers him a new record deal after a cover of his classic sugar-stick goes viral, he smiles and declines easily. But Grace decides to do her own cover of the newly popular hit and e-mails it to “Mossy.” Mossy likes what he hears, and after yet another fight with dear old Dad, you can guess what happens next: Yep, little miss evangelical-teen-with-daddy-issues packs her bags and heads for Hollywood! Just write the rest of the script yourself from there and you probably won’t be far off from the real one.
* The character of the father. I really, really liked this character—both the way he was written and the way he was acted. In fact, I liked him so much that I found it hard to sympathize with Grace’s whining, and I kind of wanted to pull some of her pretty, pretty hair out when she bad-mouthed him behind his back. Maybe I just don’t “get” whiny teenagers, but I was always rooting for Team Dad in their arguments. When Grace skips youth group for a movie, and worse, she lies about it to her mother, Dad is NOT happy about “that little song and dance you gave your mother.” Actor James Denton believably conveys deep love, anger and hurt as Trey’s little girl grows up and rejects him. Unlike some of the other characters, he actually seemed like a real person, with real emotional layers.
* I appreciated the unflattering, but probably 90% accurate portrayal of how the pop music business actually works (except that Grace hops on a tour bus before she’s chosen and recorded more than one song, which simply doesn’t make sense). Her fashion designer is also kind of over the top (we get it, in American movies a British Accent always, always = Bad). But when Dad shakes his head sadly and says, “Oh, you are not ready for this,” he’s more right than she can imagine. All that juvenile arrogance evaporates as she quickly realizes she’s not in Kansas anymore. Mossy, played by Kevin Pollak, fairly oozes cynicism. Grace asks him to make her a star, and he works to give her exactly what she wishes for, even if it means setting up a celebrity date with an unscrupulous teen heartthrob to boost iTunes sales of her single. Whether or not she’ll like how it turns out in the end, well, that’s her problem, not his. However, I liked the fact that they showed Mossy brushing away his niggling conscience in a couple moments. I also agreed with the predictable but completely right choice Grace does ultimately make. One Christian reviewer complained that Grace is a “coward” and a “bad role model,” because she returns to the “safe” confines of her church instead of trying to balance faith and artistic integrity with a career in “the biz.” I agree with the director that this would have been completely wrong for her character. Being a Christian in entertainment will always involve some sort of compromise, and if you have a shaky faith and a tenuous relationship with your family to boot, the combination spells disaster.
* You can’t have a Christian movie without a Nice Young Christian Guy, but in this case I thought the Nice Young Christian Guy was done well. As an intern at the label where Grace is trying to make her start, he keeps bumping into her at some of said awkward moments and touches her with his genuineness. And coincidentally, he knows her father from several years back. When he describes the life-changing impact Trey had on him, she begins to see things in a different light.
Now let’s talk about…
*Terrible, terrible title. It’s cutesy, ugly and makes less sense the more you think about it. So this is about a girl named Grace, who plays acoustic guitar, but yes, we get the pun, it’s also about grace, small “g.” So the million dollar question is, what does it mean for grace, little ‘g,’ to be “unplugged”? I’m thinking “showers” of grace, so maybe I should visualize shower water that’s filling up the tub until God unstops the drain. Or something.
*The trailer implies that Grace gets into far more trouble than she actually does RE: TV Punk, but while I appreciate the directors’ discretion in not having anything inappropriate in the script, I have to admit that Grace’s actual moral turning-point was rather bland and anti-climactic. All she has to do is read a Christian book, fortuitously handed to her by the aforementioned Nice Young Christian Guy. And just like that, she’s emboldened to turn down the songs being offered to her and walk away from her dream of being a mainstream pop star. Top marks for the message, but does the story-telling rise to the same level? In my opinion, good story-telling allows the characters’ choices to arise naturally from the story, minus product placement. To be fair, the book isn’t ALL there is to it, and there are some story elements contributing to her choice, but the whole thing still felt a little too convenient, a little artificial.
When Grace releases a music video for her cover of Dad’s hit “Misunderstood,” we see Dad watching it on Youtube. After it finishes, he turns to his wife and says, “She’s lame. I mean really.”
Oh who am I kidding, of course he doesn’t say that. Of course he says she’s incredible. Really. And throughout the film, it’s just assumed that the viewer will say the same thing. Every other scene shows some character hammering home the fact that this girl is “gifted in ways I can’t even describe!!!”
Methinks the film-makers do protest too much. Grace is played by an indie teen pop star named A. J. Michalka, whose voice is youthfully clear and pretty but unremarkable. She and her sister Aly were raised in a Christian home but formed a successful Disney channel duo some years back (thankfully while maintaining their faith, unlike their male counterparts the Jonas brothers). I wondered how such a plain vanilla voice could have had such a successful mainstream career until I listened to the duo’s music. After sampling such Shakespearean gems as “Like Whoa” and “Potential Breakup Song,” I realized, “Ohhhh, this is that techno dance-pop junk where vocal talent is either non-existent or completely smothered in Auto-tune. Check!” I found a grand total of one song, recorded solo by A.J. for the Disney movie Secretariat, that did not make my ears bleed:
This film could have been better, but it could also have been worse. I wanted to like it more as someone who loves music, but ultimately found that whole aspect unsatisfying. Since the movie revolves around its music, this greatly reduced my enjoyment of it. However, that doesn’t mean that there were no redeeming qualities. The dialogue and acting between father and daughter was convincing. The slimy manager was very well played. I should also mention that Jamie Grace does a nice turn as the supportive but concerned best friend. The script wasn’t bad. I had no burning desire to see it twice, but I’m almost inclined to recommend it just for James Denton’s fine performance as the father. Watch the trailer and music video for yourself to decide if it’s worth your time.