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Review: An ‘Old Fashioned’ alternative to ’50 Shades’

Rik Swartzwelder's tale of redemption and courtship — produced by a Lipscomb University professor — is Christian romance worth the watch.

“Fifty Shades of Grey,” the story of a man who derives sexual pleasure from pain, is all but guaranteed to be this weekend’s top-grossing film. It’s so mainstream that its trailer premiered on the Today show.

So should Christian sweethearts avoid theaters altogether? 

One filmmaker is giving followers of Christ — not Christian Grey — a chance to say “no” to pop culture’s lies about fantasy and sex. 

Review | Kimberly Mauck
In this, “Old Fashioned” faces a “David and Goliath” fight. 

But we all know how that one turned out. 

The film’s producer, Dave DeBorde is chair of the College of Entertainment and the Arts at Lipscomb University, a university associated with Churches of Christ. (Read more about that in this news release from Lipscomb.)

The film is written, produced and directed by Rik Swartzwelder, also its star. This is his feature film-acting debut, but his movies have won awards at festivals worldwide for years. 

“My goal was to make a film where virtue is heroic,” Swartzwelder said. 

And he has succeeded. In the climactic scene, viewers cheer for Swartzwelder’s character, Clay Walsh, to keep his promise to himself and his future wife. That promise? To not be alone with a woman until he is married to her. 

Related: ‘Christian’ Grey? Faith-based bloggers speak out about ’50 Shades’ film. Read Laura Akins’ “Views.”
Clay is a bit of antihero: He’s quiet when we wish he would speak. He wears jeans and hoodies when we would love to see him in a suit. He abstains from flirting, even when a beautiful woman desperately tries to catch his eye and coax a smile.

Like King David or the apostle Paul, Clay is not unstained from the world. In college, he started a profitable filmmaking business making lewd videos of partying college girls (think “Girls Gone Wild”). Clay has to face the fact that he has not yet forgiven himself for his promiscuity, lust and greed during college. He can quote Scripture (which his unbeliever friends sometimes tire of), but doesn’t often attend church.

The woman with whom Clay finds himself falling in love also has a past and doesn’t seem to have any faith but is certainly open to something more clean-cut than her follow-your-heart past. Played by Elizabeth Roberts, whom “Days of our Lives” fans might recognize, Amber Hewson moves into Clay’s upstairs apartment — a tricky setup if your stove stops working and your landlord repairman will not let himself be alone with a woman.

Clay puzzles and intrigues Amber, who is not used to being treated with respect and honesty. Their budding romance is nothing short of adorable, featuring Amber attempting to get Clay’s attention, almost like a cat plays with a mouse at first. But as Clay proves his virtue again and again, Amber becomes genuinely attracted to him — and begins to find ways to get him to her apartment (even though this forces her onto the porch, wrapped in a blanket).

But adult dating in contemporary culture is far from Clay’s idea of courtship. Rather than this being inhibitive to the two’s budding romance, it frees them both to be creative. Dates are spent in a kind of extended interview for marriage. How well can Amber cut up a baby’s food? Can Clay chop wood? What do they both like to read? A marriage-counseling book they obtain from a minister guides much of their conversation. 

“Old Fashioned” promotes itself as an alternative to “50 Shades of Grey.” (VIA FACEBOOK)

Anything you read about this film will likely include the name of another film opening this weekend. 

“We knew when it was decided to release ‘Old Fashioned’ on the same day as ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ that we would get some attention,” DeBorde said. “But the level of attention it has received is amazing. 

“It took a little longer to produce the film than we originally anticipated. But it was in God’s hands. His timing is perfect. … We have gotten an enormous amount of attention in the secular press for this film, which tells a much-needed story.”

Let me be clear: “Fifty Shades of Grey” is a triumph for the king of this world. He will rejoice in the records that the film breaks — and the theaters it packs. Those who choose to see the film are not meditating on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy ( Philippians 4:8 ). 

But, a lot of the time, neither am I. 

I like what Swartzwelder said: “We’re not in the church pointing a finger at the world because there’s brokenness in the church as well.” That’s the message of “Old Fashioned.” Being pure is hard, and no one succeeds all the time. 

Will Clay and Amber succeed? That’s a question I encourage you to find out for yourself. 

Maybe, if enough of us do, we’ll see another victory over the supposedly invincible giant who taunted the living God.

“Old Fashioned” opens in theaters today. 

Filed under: Headlines - Secondary Reviews

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