Release Date: February 13, 2015
Rating: PG-13 (some thematic material)
Run Time: 115 min.
Director: Rik Swartzwelder
Cast: Elizabeth Roberts, Rik Swartzwelder, LeJon Woods, Tyler Hollinger, Nini Hadjis, Maryanne Nagel, Lindsay Heath, Joseph Bonamico, Dorothy Silver, Ange’le Perez, Anne Marie Nestor
In what's being touted as "The Anti-Fifty Shades of Grey" for its decidedly counter-cultural approach to modern relationships, Old Fashioned may have its heart in the right place, but in terms of advancing the cause of faith-based filmmaking and possibly winning a few fans outside of the fold, it's strikingly out of touch.
With a tagline of "chivalry makes a comeback" (undoubtedly a noble and welcome prospect in an age where sex and love are often interchangeable), the problem with Old Fashioned, aside from the "chivalry" on display being based in fear and mistrust more than virtuous honor, is the same issue that has plagued so many faith-based projects before it. Instead of focusing on the craft of storytelling with memorable, multi-dimensional characters and believable dialogue, Old Fashioned is more interested in hammering the viewer over the head with the spiritual takeaway.
And just to make sure the big point is obvious enough, there are plenty of clunky exchanges between the leads and overly long monologues to ensure the audience "gets it." After all, why let people think for themselves when you can simply spoon-feed them answers with plenty of Christian catchphrases?
Worse yet, the storyline has some pretty strange thoughts about dating in the first place (more on that in a moment). When Amber (Elizabeth Roberts, Ragamuffin) first arrives in middle-of-nowhere Ohio with a cast on her arm and her beloved cat in tow, she decides to rent the first apartment she circles in the newspaper. It's located directly above an antiques shop called Old Fashioned, which just happens to be run by town loner Clay (Rik Swartzwelder, who also wrote and directed the movie). Even though Clay and Amber's first encounter is awkward (and that's being polite), anyone who's ever seen a movie knows immediately these two will wind up together because they're easy on the eyes, single, and roughly the same age.
What's troubling, however, is the script never makes a convincing case for why Amber should want to date Clay in the first place. It's clear from the first scene that Amber is a free spirit with some real sparkle. She's someone who is earnestly trying to figure out what she believes about God and life in general, and yet we're supposed to be rooting for her to run off into the sunset with a guy who makes her stand outside while he fixes whatever's wrong in her apartment because he won't be alone with a woman who's not his wife? Mind you, he's not married, or even seeing anyone, and he still can't fix Amber's sink with her in the same room.
Clay, somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 years old, subscribes to the "I kissed dating goodbye" philosophy because he believes that spending time getting to know someone can only equal winding up in bed together and figuring out whether you have anything in common later. Again, while his worldview of saving sex for marriage is admirable, I'm pretty sure Clay ought to know that people are capable of doing more on dates than simply hooking up. And once he and Amber finally agree to go out, it's baffling why she sticks around when he's constantly in preachy mode. Trust me, the guy never lets up.
To wit: when they actually decide to take things beyond grocery-store flirting, Clay and Amber's first date is to a local marriage counselor to pick up a book that involves tackling the kinds of questions (sexual history, previous drug use, how many kids she wants to have, etc.) that are definitely not first date material. Clay is so inept at relationships, in fact, that Amber has to coach him on how to behave. Instead of buying Amber flowers, paying her a compliment or thinking up something fun that doesn't involve figuring out right away whether Amber is marriage material, this wet rag of a suitor requires a play-by-play on how to romance a woman (this is how "chivalry makes a comeback"?).
Now to be fair, as it turns out, Clay, like most people, has a past. He used to be a womanizer who is particularly ashamed of the tawdry videos of college-aged girls he made back in his frat days. He nobly wants to pursue becoming a better man. But the way he goes about that quest is odd, extreme, and frankly, pretty unbelievable. Clay is one of those who's so heavenly minded he's no earthly good.
Even a more of a head-scratcher is when Amber randomly declares Clay to be the kind of man she wants to marry, even though his taciturn nature and lack of grace for anyone, especially himself, suggests anything but a viable union. Maybe with some counseling, yes, but "'til death do us part" should be years down the road if Amber is indeed planning on marrying Clay for any reason other than the script requires it.
Ultimately, Old Fashioned is yet another movie made strictly for believers that’s "one step forward, several steps back." Yes, there's some pretty cinematography, and the casting of Roberts was a particularly inspired choice. There's even an interracial relationship, which is pretty progressive for these types of films. But for all the talk of wanting to build better, more substantial romantic relationships that hearken back to the days of "old-fashioned courtship," Old Fashioned feels about as far from reality as your average romantic comedy. Sure, it's operating from a different moral compass, but in terms of navigating relationships in an increasingly complicated world, Old Fashioned offers little insight beyond a series of well-worn platitudes.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):
- Drugs/Alcohol: Social drinking. A couple scenes in bars.
- Language/Profanity: None
- Sex/Nudity: Some discussion of Amber and Clay's promiscuous pasts. Amber's co-workers make an off-handed remark about Clay being gay or "small" anatomically speaking. A scene where a stripper shows up at a bachelor party is cut short. Amber and Clay both question whether the other slept with someone else while they were dating. Part of Clay's past involved making Girls Gone Wild-esque videos featuring college-aged girls. A few flashbacks of these videos are shown throughout. Clay's pal Brad, now a shock-jock radio personality of sorts, makes several comments that objectify women.
- Violence: Discussion of an abusive boyfriend who gave Amber a broken arm for wearing nail polish. A couple of scuffles between Clay and Brad.
Publication date: February 12, 2015