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A brave attempt at filmmaking?

February 3, 2012

TCF, the hubs, and I hit Redbox last week, so we finally got around to watching Courageous.  I’m a mother which means that generally it costs me about $200 to go to a movie (including babysitter, and popcorn with butter layered throughout, Weight Watchers be damned for one stinkin’ night!).  We rarely get to see things in the theater.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with Courageous  (aka: my non-Baptist readers), it’s one of several films made by Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia.  I think it’s kind of cool for a church to back such an undertaking, though so far it’s resulted in movies that feel more like after-school specials than major motion pictures.  Their first film, a football flick called Facing the Giants, is the doctrinal equivalent of that bad joke “what do you get when you play a country song backwards?  You get your car back, your wife back, and your dog back.”

I'd rather be watching Friday Night Lights #cleareyesfullhearts

Essentially, the movie teaches (and believe me, it teaches) that if you pray hard enough, God will give you everything you ever wanted.  Truck break down?  No problem.  Team losing and you’re about to lose your job?  We got that.  Infertility struggles?  Puhleeeze.  (There should be a phrase like “get cash fast” involved in there somewhere.)  I’m not saying God can’t or won’t do for His faithful servants.  His mercy and graces go beyond anything we could ever think or imagine.  But it doesn’t usually work like that.  Unless you’re Joel Osteen. [bazinga]

Sherwood’s second venture, Fireproof, took the plotline up a notch from after-school special to Lifetime movie.  Now, I’ll tread a little lighter here since I do know at least one person who saw the movie and became a more committed Christian in light of the themes explored in Fireproof (which just proves God can and will use literally anything to reach a willing person)The movie focuses on a marriage grown cold and distant in part due to the pornography addiction of the character played by Kirk Cameron (you read that right, Kirk flippin’ Cameron!!).

The jokes just make themselves here, folks. Just look at that tagline. WHAT! Is he holding roses? For real. Honestly, the poster I had in my room from his stint on Growing Pains was waaaay hotter. (pun NOT intended)

These are real problems in a marriage and the Baptists at Sherwood make no bones about letting KC strut around like the world owes him something.  His character is transformed by a “dare” his father gives him: The Love Dare (naturally, now available as a book, small group study guide, t-shirt, and travel coffee mug).  My personal favorite scene involved a well-timed product placement appearance by Chick-fil-A.

So by the time we got around to this viewing of Courageous, I’d already set up some expectations.  The first was about a coach.  The second was about a fireman husband-gone-bad.  And I knew this one was going to be about police dads. This was the movie poster we saw last year one of the rare times we went to the movies (probably to see Harry Potter or something evil like that).

To me, this looks a little better. But cops, seriously? Can it get manlier? Lumberjacks! They need Jesus-loving lumberjacks.

I’d also heard the theme song on the radio.  Like any good Becky, I’d heard the song about 2.4 jillion times.  The song “Courageous” is by Casting Crowns, a group led by a youth pastor (they are basically the John Williams of cheesy Christian movies).  I tried to go into the movie with an open mind, and hoping that the first two films were rough drafts.  I must say, that hope was somewhat rewarded.  The production value of this movie was much better than the first two.  The dramatic scenes were actually dramatic.  The dogmatic scenes were actually appropriately so, placed in ceremonial contexts so pastoral counsel or straight Bible preaching seemed a natural part of the story, rather than the typical melodramatically-lit-from-above “this is how Christians roll, yo, we PRAY, Hammer don’t hurt ’em”/Touched by an Angel “I’m not your realtor, I’m an ANGEL!” moment.

The film also had legitimate character development, and many of the things the dads did and committed themselves to in order to improve their relationships with their families would be inspirational for anyone.  The filmmakers tried to focus on the importance of personal integrity and challenged some cultural perceptions about manhood by portraying men who were vulnerable yet strong.  Humble yet confident in their faith.  And I found most of these portrayals believable, which speaks to the improvement in both the acting and the writing.  For example, when TCF thought one conversation was too heavy-handed in its “here’s a character sharing the Gospel,” I disagreed.  I know guys who talk like that.  Most of them come off more obnoxious than the character did, but I didn’t find the scene as phony as some of the cue-the-music Uncle Jesse moments I grew up with on Full House (whoa! Candace Cameron was this close to making it into this post.  That’s a Kevin Bacon full-circle situation if I ever wrote one).

I do, however, have several beefs with the movie.  (Oh, buck up.  It wouldn’t be me if this were a vegetarian review, y’all.)  The first is that the whole dad thing, while great, went creepily awry with the daddy-daughter storylines.  I mean, awry. One father-daughter relationship explored in the movie had an element of tragedy to it.  And the way that was portrayed was fair, and probably pretty realistic.  Where I was first alerted to the coming creepshow was when the camera lingered in that particular daughter’s room on a sign that read: “My Prince has come and his name is Daddy!”  Um, no.  Your Prince has come and His name is Jesus.  JESUS.  And why do Baptists not understand what an Electra complex is?  You’d never see a sign like that about a mom in a boy’s room.  “My princess has come and her name is Mommy.”  No way.

The movie went creeptastic in a later scene where a dad takes his young teenage daughter out to dinner and essentially proposes to her with a diamond(-ish?) promise ring.  I keep meaning to write about this whole phenomenon, and maybe someday I’ll get around to it, but by now you can probably tell this creeps me the heck out.  I have nothing against parents purchasing a chastity ring or purity ring or whatever the heck you want to call it.  Makes sense.  Kids rarely have that kind of dough.  I don’t even mind it being given in some semi-ceremonial way with a little don’t-have-sex talk to go with it (though that really does edge on the weird).  What I have a problem with is the idea that any man, much less your DAD, guards your heart or virginity.  That’s your job, girl.  And with Jesus’ help, you can actually do it well.  This is another thing you’d never see in the reverse with moms and sons.  I seriously doubt each Jonas brother was taken out on a “mommy-son date” (SEE?!!) for a “mom’s the only girl for you until you’re married” speech before mom slipped his purity ring on his finger.  So why is this cool when men do it?  Guess what.  It’s not.  And, while we’re on this, PS: girls need not be the only ones on guard.  This women-play-defense, men-play-offense thing is unbiblical nonsense.  Read a proverb or two, boys. You need to watch your own junk, too.  (pun happily unintended)

Aside from the daddy-daughter-ewwww thing, I was also bothered by the treatment of the only Latino character in the film.  Javier was also the only non-cop in the gang of dads, and the guy who most had his ish together, frankly.  He entered the film as a dad struggling to make ends meet.  His wife was at home, barely able to feed the kids (rice and beans and a tortilla, no less).  Out of work, his luck turns when he’s given the chance to help build white cop #1’s backyard shed.  This felt a little on-the-nose as it was unfolding, but I wanted to give the movie room before I rushed to make any judgments about racial insensitivity or xenophobia.  I didn’t have to wait long.  One of the first things white cop #1 said to Javier was “Do you have a work permit?”  Now, this would make sense because no cop wants to break the law just to so his lawnmower has a nice house to live in; however, white cop #1 was under the impression that Javier had already worked for his best buddy and partner, white cop #2.  So it stands to reason that this wasn’t a question that really begged to be asked.  The writers put it in there on purpose.  Because you can’t be a good Christian, or even a marginally good one if you’re Latino and without a work permit or whatever.  I doubt this would have even been a question if Javier had come from say, Spain, or Canada.  He could have come from either or been native-born American for that matter, since the film doesn’t establish his citizenship.  It does, though, essentially give moral permission for cops, or white people, to see a brown person, assume they’re breaking the law with their mere presence, and say, “show me your papers.”  It was at this point in the movie, knowing I was going to be blogging about the film, that the hubs turned to me and said emphatically, “write that down.”

Javier was also featured in a scene where white cops #1 and #2 take him along on a bust.  Javier tells a story about how the closest he ever got to gang membership was being in the Snake Kings, a gang of kids who patrolled their neighborhood looking for snakes to kill.  Like I said, Javier’s the man to beat here.  But the scene is still a little off-putting, with him in the back (the only place for a third person to ride in a cop car), unable to open his own door and the two white cops sitting up front on the right side of the cage.  When they arrive at the bust, the cops decide to teach a lesson to one teen they busted (a black kid who was arrested with two white kids, “that one is a little belligerent.”).  So they put him in the back with Javier and ask Javier to behave like a crazed psychopath.  The cops talk about him in the third person, saying he’s the head of the Snake Kings and might kill the kid for sport.  Javier, meanwhile, plays along, darting his eyes back and forth and muttering descriptions of (no lie) Chick-fil-A fare in Spanish.  TCF was thrilled to see her favorite cameo.  The scene is meant to be funny, and it would be, if it weren’t fully loaded with stereotypes and tropes that make a white audience feel like behaving this way toward a Latin man is not only acceptable but actually “friendly” relations.

Unfortunately Courageous fell short of anything I’d hoped.  While it felt more like an actual big screen movie and the writing has improved, the film’s teaching—both the implicit and explicit—is still fundamentally flawed.  As it turns out, Fireproof is probably the most theologically sound of the bunch, and to me, that’s a pretty low honor.  Yet I know that many of my friends are committed to this movie and want to see more like it.  I just hope that with each new shot they get, things will continue to improve.  Sometimes it takes more than three drafts.  You could read any of the many typo-riddled posts of mine to see the wisdom in that.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. TCF permalink
    February 3, 2012 2:47 am

    That you know guys who talk like that doesn’t mean it ain’t heavy-handed. 😉

    Chick-fil-A 4eva.

    • bnbecky permalink*
      February 4, 2012 4:22 am

      Whatev, Catholic introvert.

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