Grace Unplugged Hits a Few of the Right Notes
- Friday, October 04, 2013
Release Date: October 4, 2013 (limited)
Rating: PG (for thematic elements and brief teen drinking)
Run Time: 118 min.
Director: Brad J. Silverman
Cast: AJ Michalka, James Denton, Kevin Pollak, Shawnee Smith, Michael Welch, Jamie Grace
In stark contrast to many films that fall under the "Christian" or "family-friendly" banner, Grace Unplugged is a movie with a message and strong production values. With compelling performances from the lead actors, a decent (read: mostly non-cringeworthy) script and cinematography that isn't embarrassingly dated, that’s practically cause for celebration, right?
Well, yes and no.
A great deal of care was taken in distinguishing Grace Unplugged from its predecessors and one can’t help appreciating the timeliness of examining fame, the cost of compromise and fractured father/daughter dynamics.
But as heartwarming as it can be, the trouble with Grace Unplugged, and why a good chunk of it probably won't resonate with many outside of the Church, is the troubling conclusion that’s ultimately drawn from Grace’s journey. Is the best way to please God and honor your faith to merely trade mainstream stardom for Christian superstardom as a worship leader who plays massive church arenas with Chris Tomlin instead of being salt and light in smoky clubs?
When the story begins, Grace is a pretty, conflicted 18-year-old with plenty of natural talent and charisma. A lover of music from the moment her father first gave her a guitar, she’s eager to share her passion with the world. Unfortunately, leading worship at her small Alabama church with her dad week after week causes Grace to feel stifled. Clashing over stylistic ambitions and what it means to praise God through song, there’s clearly a massive wedge between father and daughter.
See, as much as Johnny recognizes his daughter’s talent, he’s seen the proverbial wizard behind the curtain during his own wild years as a pop star. Though he hopes to save her from the whole sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll existence, she is still determined to make a name for herself—with or without his approval.
Interestingly enough, that opportunity happens much sooner than expected when Johnny’s former manager Frank Mostin (a well-cast Kevin Pollak, The Big Year) shows up. As it turns out, one of Johnny’s big hits is regaining popularity after it was performed on a televised talent show, and “Mossy” has been working the phones and garnering plenty of interest in reviving Johnny’s career. Trouble is, Mossy isn’t nearly persuasive enough, and Johnny flat-out refuses since he’s found Christ and turned his life around. But for Grace, who just happened to hear the whole conversation, it's the perfect window of opportunity.
After Johnny's rejection, Mossy is naturally pretty surprised to hear from Grace. For years, he’d been there for her father through successes and struggles, however, so he’s happy to help make her a star. So without even telling her parents who in her mind, probably wouldn’t understand anyway, Grace hi-tails it to Los Angeles, records her dad’s song, and before you know it, she’s got label interest, an image consultant and an imaginary boyfriend courtesy of “the fame machine.”
Even as determined as Grace is "to make it," she is immediately faced with troubling trade-offs. When her own songwriting efforts don’t yield much fruit, she's told she’ll be recording a track about a one-night stand instead (she refuses). Later, the pop star she's always admired tells her she'll have to use her body to gain attention while her manager and stylist suggest that racier clothes will be part of her future (she ultimately resists the urge to dress provocatively).
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