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A Critical Review on the Movie Itself, Not the Ideology
on September 25, 2014
The reviews of this are surprisingly uncritical, mostly due to a pro-Christian bias among its fans--as if one has to support the movie, no matter what, just in order to get more like it made. Maybe that is the case, and if so I hope that future movies from this studio are better written. If looked at objectively, this is a rather clumsy--and sometimes un-Christian--movie. Yes, I really mean that. Warning, there are spoilers below.
Setting: On the surface, it is a story of a big-city doctor who finds her spiritual center and happy ever after in the last place she would have looked: small-town Louisiana, where she happens to get into a spot of car trouble. Sound like Doc Hollywood? Yep, but not as good, unfortunately. The town is not as charming as Doc Hollywood, and in fact can be downright creepy in the way it is artificially constructed. The judge-slash-doctor-slash-pastor of the town is a highly-respected older black man, breaking stereotypes of the South (good!). However, he is the ONLY black man in the entire town, it seems. He has not married and brought black children into the world; instead, he has adopted two white orphans and raised them instead. To be fair, he has raised them well, but it just seems contrived. Why bother? Give him a nice Christian black family. The romantic hero does not need to be this man's son, if you are unwilling to consider an interracial romance. He can be a neighbor or a friend.
Characters: If you are going to keep the oprhan plot line, then give real depth to the characters. What happened to the orphans' parents? The grown orphan woman was a single mother, and I wanted to know her story. The odd-duck sheriff who seems rather dull-witted but plays the sax with soul--did he really need to be such a dolt for half the movie? If we're challenging stereotypes of Southerners being bumpkins, then don't make them bumpkins. The best Southerner in the whole movie was the federal court judge, who was sharp and thoughtful. In general, the clunky character development felt like the script was a college film school project.
Plot: The idea of bringing the ACLU in as the big bad wolf is rather amusing, and the way these Northern Liberal Elite (headquarters: Cambridge, Massachusetts) are defeated hardly qualifies as clever. One of the biggest mistakes in storytelling is to underestimate your audience, yet the directors here do not seem to believe that their viewers will understand the "complicated" legal hopscotch without hitting us over the head with it several times. Better yet, could the hero, Lucas, have found a better way to defend his public display of the cross? Giving up on the issue of free speech--and forcing him to buy the land under the cross--almost smacks of giving into the Liberals. And, once again, if you're trying to prove that this self-taught lawyer is so smart, why have the female doctor character point out to him the difference between public and private land, which ends up being the key to the case? Did he really need her to explain it to him after the judge pretty much laid it right out? If so, he really is not that bright.
Acting: The male hero was well cast, and he acts the part well. I liked him, and I found the doctor's attraction to him, his lifestyle, and his faith very believable. However, the rest of the casting was pretty uninspired. The doctor herself is too unlikeable in the beginning. She has no charm from which to build up a rapport later. Her edges soften, but she is never fun to like. This transition is the toughest balance in a romance like this one, and this movie does not quite get it right.
Message: So, what's un-Christian about this movie? Two things struck me. First, the fact that the judge-slash-doctor is also the local preacher is somewhat insulting. I know many reverends, pastors, and chaplains, and they work hard all week long. You don't just get up in front of people and say a few words off-the-cuff. Even if your doctor and judge duties are not too taxing, being a spiritual guide in a town of faithful people is a full-time job. You spend hours writing sermons, you work with families in need, you lead youth groups, you counsel couples getting married, and on and on...In other words, you work hard. To make it seem otherwise is frankly not fair to Christian leaders everywhere. (I did like the parable of the pecan tree, by the way.)
The second worrying thing is the fact that Lisa, the female doctor, heads off with her slick city boyfriend Steve after he proposes. She is falling in love with Lucas, the self-made lawyer (does he have another job?), but she still goes with Steve (to build up tension, presumably). Now, Lisa and Steve have been dating for five years, apparently, and they were a typical urban secular couple, so let's just agree that they have had premarital sex. Are we supposed to suspend belief that she does not have sex with Steve in the interlude between their engagement and marriage? Come on. Maybe I am the prude here, but it feels an awful lot like cheating on Lucas, at least in her heart. Lucas says he values promises people make to each other, but she breaks two--one to Steve when she walks out on her wedding day (really?) and one implicit one to Lucas when she comes back to him and does not apologize for making the mistake of sleeping with another man. Maybe she doesn't owe that last apology to Lucas, but I felt like the happily ever after scene needed a little more depth to it.
Just because a movie (seems to) follow one's religious beliefs does not make it a good story. Fans of inspirational Christian fiction should demand intelligent stories with layered characters. Why settle for less?