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“Old Fashioned” Offers Polar Opposite of “Fifty Shades of Grey”

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David Ives - published on 02/13/15

Director Rik Swartzwelder wants to tell a romantic story that also honors God

It may come as a surprise to some but, according to Box Office Mojo, the movie with the all-time best opening weekend during the month of February is Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, which earned a whopping $83,848,082 between Ash Wednesday and the first Sunday of Lent in 2004.

But if the industry’s tracking services are correct, The Passion’s eleven year run as the champion of February may finally be coming to an end. The film which might soon overtake it, at least in terms of money earned, is Fifty Shades of Grey. Yeah, it’s come to that.

Fifty Shades of Grey, as you probably can’t help but know by now, is the film adaptation of E. L. James’ ode to kinky sexual practices which inexplicably became an international bestseller. I say inexplicably because when even The Huffington Post calls your poorly written book “a sad joke,” you know you must have authored something awful. But bad writing or not, the thing became a blockbuster, and now the inevitable movie version is arriving just in time for Valentine’s Day. 

It doesn’t seem that long ago that practitioners of BDSM (bondage-discipline, dominance-submission & sadism-masochism) were seen as psychologically disordered by just about every rational person. Times have changed, though, and the current edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association now only considers such acts to be disordered if they are carried out non-consensually or cause one of the participants clinically significant distress. As long as everybody is having fun, the APA is just fine with it.

Not so the country’s religious leaders, who almost uniformly have stepped forward to condemn Fifty Shades of Grey. Both Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo and Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati, for instance, have penned letters denouncing the story’s demeaning portrayal of sex and reminding the public about the Church’s teachings on sexual intimacy in marriage. But rather than just protest, filmmaker Rik Swartzwelder has taken another approach to combatting Fifty Shades of Grey. He’s made an alternative called Old Fashioned.

Old Fashioned, which opens in theaters on the same day as Fifty Shades of Grey, tells the story of the decidedly non-sexual courtship between two people for whom the sexual revolution has been a complete dud. Having just moved into town for a fresh start, Amber (Elizabeth Ann Roberts) is immediately fascinated by her new landlord, Clay (writer/director/producer and lead actor Rik Swartzwelder), after he makes her stand outside the door while he does some repair work. Clay, it seems, has made a vow never to be alone with any woman except his wife (when and if he ever marries one), and no matter how much Amber protests, it’s a vow he won’t break.

The whole town seems to know about Clay’s peculiarities when it comes to women and they all try to warn Amber against wasting her time pursuing him. Amber is determined, however, and keeps purposely breaking things in her apartment in order to force Clay to come over and fix them. If for no other reason than to stop the destruction, the reluctant Clay finally agrees to go on a real date with Amber. Much to Amber’s bewilderment, though, that first date takes place in a minister’s office where Clay procures them books on how to tell if you’re compatible with your future spouse. Not exactly dinner and a movie, but at least it gets points for originality.

Clay, it turns out, used to be something of a player in his college days, and now he’s trying to atone for it by approaching relationships from an "old fashioned" spiritual angle rather than a modern physical one. Amber, whose sexual dalliances in the past have all ended in heartache, finds the approach charming. All of their friends think they’re doomed to fail.

In an interview with Catholic World Report, Swartzwelder stated, “I simply wanted to tell a romantic story — not set in the 1800s or Amish Country — that reflected the lives of the singles I knew, just regular guys and girls who were trying to find someone to share life with (possibly) and also wanted to honor God in the process. Since their story wasn’t being told by anyone else, I thought I’d give it a shot.”

Old Fashioned is the latest in a string of movies such as Believe Me and The Song which attempt to break free of the old model of faith-based films (lots of preaching, not much artistry) and offer instead something which might appeal to general audiences. As in most small indie films, there are a few moments of spotty writing and acting, and — as in most movies made by evangelicals—there are a few brief instances of sermonizing; but overall the film is nicely done and kind of charming… if you’re a Christian.

Sadly, I just can’t see Old Fashioned having much appeal to those who aren’t already inclined to approach dating from a Christian perspective. In fact, Clay’s code of conduct is so extreme that it will probably come across as freakish to non-religious viewers. I mean, there are plenty of ways to be with a woman that don’t involve being alone. Have dinner at a restaurant, take in a play, go for a walk in a crowded park. But buying a woman an axe so the two of you can spend some quality time chopping wood together in public? I really don’t think that’s going to convince anyone to try dating the  "old fashioned" way. It’s almost like in counterprogramming Fifty Shades of Grey, Old Fashioned goes to the opposite extreme and offers a taste of love Puritan style.

Still, if you’re tired of the oversexed romances (if that’s what you want to call them) that Hollywood is offering up these days, but you’d still like to take your loved one to a movie for Valentine’s Day, Old Fashioned has just enough goofy charm to make it worth a watch. Plus, unlike all those other folks who will be lining up to see the train wreck that is Fifty Shades of Grey, you’ll have the extra added benefit of not having to hide your face as you exit the theater.

Tags:
Christian MoviesMarriageMoviesSexuality
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