I Don’t Normally Get Emails From Movie Producers
Last week, I posted a fairly negative review of the latest faith-based film, The Song, and I expected there to be a low to moderate degree of interest in what I wrote. Boy, was I wrong.
The next day, my website’s traffic meter went off the charts, thanks to the fact that Tim Challies, one of the most popular Christian bloggers in the world, posted a link to the review. When that happened, I realized there would be a significant number of people whose first impression of the movie would be a negative one. And I didn’t know whether to feel guilty for pointing out the film’s weaknesses, or to feel sorry for City on a Hill Productions, which made a movie with some significant flaws.
I was even more surprised when I got an email from Tony Young, one of the executive producers for the film. He graciously defended The Song, explaining that City on a Hill aims to produce movies that are more “conversational” and not so much “conversional.” He said that they want to get viewers “thinking about the content and wanting to take the next steps to go deeper to explore the subject matter,” which is why they produced a corresponding teaching series that “unpacks some of the biblical truths surrounding the film’s subject matter.”
He acknowledged that the end of the film wasn’t perfect but said he felt that I had oversimplified it in my review (I felt that the movie took an abusive marital situation and used a patently questionable apology to romanticize a couple’s dysfunctional reconciliation). Young ended his kind email by stating that he hoped I would reconsider some of my positions on the movie.
Not long after getting the email from Young, I talked with a number of different Christian friends about my review. Some were very supportive of it, while others felt like I had been too hard on the film – especially considering the fact that City on a Hill is a Christian operation that is promoting positive, biblical themes we don’t typically see in Hollywood films.
The pushback against my review left me wondering if I had somehow sinned against the filmmakers by bluntly speaking my mind and not going out of my way to be more encouraging about their movie. So with an open mind, I looked back at my review and realized that, in my frustration with certain key elements of the film, I may have unintentionally conveyed that the whole thing was an abject failure. I regret that, because there were certainly positive and redemptive elements to it, most especially the work of actress Caitlin Nicol-Thomas (pictured above), who managed to take a relatively flat, non-Christian vixen and make her more likable than any other character in the film. But as I thought about it, I recognized a more fundamental issue with my review: I treated these filmmakers differently simply because they’re Christians. That is, in some ways, I went easier on them; and in other ways, I was much harder on them.
With respect to going easier on the movie, early in my review, I stated that The Song “far exceeds the cinematography, acting, and production values of most Christian-produced movies.” With that slight of hand, I glossed over a whole host of weaknesses in the film that included acting, screenplay, makeup, and editing; and I unfairly gave the movie a pass because it had better production values than movies like Facing the Giants and Courageous. I don’t think it’s right to do that – in fact, it’s hypocritical. I should have assessed the movie with the same critical eye that I would have used if the Lifetime Channel had produced the same film, but I didn’t. I extended a type of affirmative action that the Church has come to expect of Christians when we assess art produced by fellow believers.
At the same time, I was extra hard on The Song when it came to its presentation of the narrative of repentance and marital reconciliation – and quite frankly, I don’t feel bad about that at all. Christians claim the moral high ground when it comes to what it means to have a godly, loving marriage – so if we’re going to make a movie about those themes, we’d better get it right. I mean, if we, of all people, can’t excel at telling the stories that are most important to us, why should we complain when Hollywood gets those stories completely wrong?
Please understand that it wasn’t my intent to talk people out of seeing the movie. To the contrary, if you’re a believer, I encourage you to go see it and let God use it to start conversations with Christians and non-Christians alike. And by the way, when you’re talking with Christians, consider whether one of the most important conversations we can have is whether it’s okay to hold ourselves to the same artistic standards to which we hold the world.