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Movie Reviews from a Christian Family Friendly Entertainment

Irreplaceable Will Surprise You with Its Journey to Grace

  • Shawn McEvoy Managing Editor, Crosswalk.com
  • 2014 5 May
  • COMMENTS
<i>Irreplaceable</i> Will Surprise You with Its Journey to Grace

DVD Release Date: Now available for purchase and church screenings
Theatrical Release Date: In U.S. theaters one night only, Tuesday, May 6, 2014. UPDATE: Encore presentations have been announced for Thursday, May 15. Tickets available through FathomEvents.com
Rating: Focus on the Family has attached its own "Parental Guidance Suggested; 15+" rating to the film
Genre: Documentary
Run Time: 85 minutes
Director: Tim Sisarich
Cast: Tim Sisarich (narrator)

What's wrong with the world?

Within the first half hour of Focus on the Family's one-night movie event Irreplaceable, BreakPoint's John Stonestreet answers that question by borrowing from G.K. Chesteron, who once famously responded with the concise answer: "Dear Sirs, I am."

Even if everything else were a perfect Utopia, Stonestreet elaborates, I'd still be here mucking things up for everyone with my selfish and sinful ways. It's a useful point when it's made and a salient subject to think upon, but what does it have to do with this film, the posters for which feature the potentially-inflammatory question, "What is family?"

I'm glad you asked, because the way things come back around to this subject by the end of the film is one of the best things about Irreplaceable, which, I'm happy to report, is a production of Christian media that rises gracefully above much of what has come before.

But it didn't necessarily look or feel like it was going to be that way from the start. What was I expecting? Something more like a ball-peen hammer of Bible verses plus wailing and gnashing of teeth. Pointing fingers and desperate voices. After all, we'd heard that some theaters had already decided not to show this "controversial" film, and in the first five minutes there's a bit of a "here we go again" vibe as grainy pictures of happy couples from the "good old days" dot the screen, with backward-longing lines like, "Attitudes about marriage have shifted dramatically since our parents were kids" and "It used to be all about family" (did it?).

But it's all leading up to something, and not necessarily the something you think. But more on that in a minute.

Our host for these proceedings is director and narrator Tim Sisarich, who works for Focus on the Family in another part of the globe. Tim has a wife, five kids and a few father issues of his own which he'll reveal to us over the course of his journey. I'll admit to some initial skepticism at his being the choice to narrate this piece for no other reason than his enjoyable New Zealand accent. I mean, just about any hot topic is kept below boiling point when discussed in politely soothing Kiwi strains, no? But it turns out Sisarich has an even greater strength than his voice, and that's his humility, his willingness to listen, to learn. I can't emphasize enough how key these assets are to the outcome of Irreplaceable, and how well they function as examples for other Christians to engage the world.

Tim admits that, as a modern dad, two of his goals are to "fix whatever's wrong" and "keep [his family] safe." And so it also goes, he says, with Focus on the Family and their ministerial mission. And so, representing both himself and his parent ministry, off he goes on a world tour in search of everything from history to contemporary culture in order to, well, "fix whatever's wrong" with the family, and keep the institution of the family safe.

Good luck with that, Tim. 

And wouldn't you know it, somewhere along the winding road, Tim and his goals change. He spends the first hour of the movie talking to, as he puts it, "people with titles" (among them Eric Metaxas, Michael Medved, Gabe Lyons, Ashley Mcguire, Carey Casey, Helen Alvare, Annie More, Linda Malone, Nicky & Sila Lee, and more), before deciding in the final half hour to talk to "people with stories." Every single one of the interviews is handled gently and respectfully, but the most moving of the "story" segments is an elderly gentleman by the name of Gene Wohlberg. Gene spends most of his time loving on the aging, the infirm, the dying. He calls himself "the world's best teacher" because his past, he says, involves every example of what not to do. Gene and Tim, through sharing their stories, each leave the other almost speechless at the goodness of God's grace at loving prodigal sons like themselves.

Like all of us.

Like all of us. And this is where Irreplaceable pulls back the curtain to reveal what it was really leading up to all along: we aren't on a journey to turn back the clock, point the finger, or even keep our children safe (pain and problems, concludes Tim, are part of both family life and life in the world, and can be beneficial). We aren't even really married to the film's loose narrative skeleton of "If we devalue sexuality, we devalue marriage. If we devalue marriage, we devalue parenting. If we devalue parenting, we devalue children. If we devalue children..." Rather, in trying to answer "What's wrong with the family?" our man Tim has stunned even himself by arriving at a singular answer through all he has learned along the way: 

"I am."

Oh sure, over the previous 80 minutes we and Tim encountered many interesting truths and takes: our consumer culture's influence upon disposable rather than fixable marriages, how the feminist movement didn't go far enough to "fight for a world in which pregnant women are accepted" and empowered, how defining freedom as "a free for all" has actually made us slaves, how a by-product of divorce is a fear of marriage. Each of these sound bites is delivered gently and thoughtfully, as are all the man-on-the-street opinions that clash with a Christian worldview. Yet still, in the end, it's like all of the above are momentarily erased, as both audience and host look inward to see our own culpability in the issues of our own families. And that's when Irreplaceable delivers its biggest blow: 

Here we have a film where you may be expecting to hear, for better or worse, that the traditional family is irreplaceable, so we'd better fight for it on a macro-societal level. That may be noble, but it's not the primary message here. This film literally concludes by telling you that YOU are irreplaceable, and there will always be someone looking out the front porch window anticipating your physical or spiritual return. God's Family and your family will never be complete without you.

And that is a wonderful place to finish one journey and begin another (Irreplaceable is, after all, just the first in a series of films that Focus has planned). If the first installment - which also functions as a fantastic rebranding for Focus if that's how they want to treat it - is any indication, the rest of the journey should prove quite compelling.

***

But perhaps I praise too much? Not everything works in Irreplaceable. Tim's "self-interviews" in his drab hotel rooms feel forced at times and don't add much; this film works better as a documentary than a diary. Similarly, his Skype call with his family back in New Zealand feels tacked on as a token answer to anyone who might criticize him for "forgetting his own family" while off galavanting about for answers about the institution of Family. And occasionally, a tiny fear monger pops its head up to get us worked up about the existence of such things as "divorce hotels" and "hooking up." The topic of abortion is broached, but I wish it wouldn't have been, not when there's so little space to give it worthwhile discussion. In a film that wants to define "What is family?" there isn't any time to talk directly about friendship, step-families, or other non-traditional families. And as you may have noticed, the film plays it a bit loose with exactly what question it's trying to answer. Is it "What is family?" or is it "How did we get here?" or "How do we protect the family?" or "What's wrong with the family?" The toggling didn't bother me so much, but technically speaking, it's bad form for a documentary.

So, while far from perfect (but what 90-minute documentary about "What is Family?" will be?), Irreplaceable is nonetheless 75% smarter, 50% less negative and 100% more grace-filled than I expected, leaving us with a bottom line that "It's better to be a redeemed family than a perfect one." Well, that works for movies, too.

CAUTIONS (may include spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol: None
  • Language/Profanity: None, though several folks Tim interviews on the street about topics from "hooking up" to divorce speak bluntly of their (generally non-Christian) views
  • Sex/Nudity: Sexuality is one of five primary topics discussed in the movie. Focus walks a good balance between showing the audience why it's an issue without getting graphic. Believe it or not, the word and topic "homosexuality" makes no appearance in this film.
  • Violence/Crime: None is shown, but Tim's testimony involves a father who embezzled money and had a secret other family; we also meet individuals including prison inmates who were abused as children or who have otherwise violent pasts (the prisoner testimonies at first seem out-of-place, until you realize how smartly and subtly the film has shown us the way these inmates found true peace, freedom and grace once they were no longer free. For anyone who has ever been tempted to view marriage as "a prison," the message of finding meaning and freedom in seeing it through will be obvious)
  • Worldview/Morals/Marriage: The entire experience is obviously under the umbrella of Focus on the Family's Christian worldview regarding the family's key place in society and the Kingdom of God. However, other worldviews are presented, particularly in on-the-street interviews where Tim listens patiently to dozens of disparate viewpoints. Even the experts he interviews are likely to disagree with him on any number of theological details, yet speak as allies regarding family research or statistics. BUT, SHOULD I BRING MY KIDS? Focus itself recommends the film for age 15 and over, and I'm with them. Definitely leave those under 10 at home (they'd be bored anyway, save your money). As regards younger teens, you might consider bringing them if they have good attention spans and a certain level of maturity / willingness to discuss the film afterwards.

Publication date: May 2, 2014