Movie Time: Grace Unplugged
While I love movies and I love being a Christian, I’d be the first to admit that I do not always enjoy Christian media. I’m not a fan of the disaster Christian movies and I hate what Hallmark did to the Janette Oke movie adaptations by changing (ruining) the stories and adding too much sensuality. I’ve been a big fan of some Christian movies such as The Mighty Macs, Fireproof and Courageous, and I’m always looking for more movies to add to my favorite list. I’m thrilled to say that Grace Unplugged is a lovely movie that touches the heart with beautiful music and a story that illuminates the beauty of dependency on Christ.
This movie tells the story of a Grace who loves music and shares the stage at church with her with her formerly famous worship leader father. When an opportunity arises to cover her father’s former number one hit she seizes it and begins the glittery and dark ride to fame. Grace learns about the music industry and fame and instead of finding peace and happiness only finds more questions and emptiness. The script does suffer a couple of moments of what I call “ clumsy Christianisms”, which means that I can understand what they are trying to share, but it just sounds so heavy-handed. It’s particularly a problem with a conversation with Grace and another pop star. The film is still really good, but Christian movies including this one, are still facing the problem of writing realistic dialogue for sections that are designed to witness or teach Christian concepts. I loved that the film talked about the dangers of sex, alcohol, and viewing yourself as a commodity without showing us explicit images. Grace Unplugged is proof that you can tell people about dangers in the world without having to show every salacious detail.
AJ Michalka gives a lovely performance as Grace. She’s open and convincing in every situation. Michalka also has a beautiful voice and is a joy to watch perform. James Denton turns in a solid performance as Jonny Try, Grace’s dad. If Denton’s performance suffers at all is at fault of some of the dialogue and not his own ability. Jamie Grace, one of my favorite singers, does a good job of playing Rachel, the kind of best friend everyone would like to have. Kevin Pollack does a wonderful job of playing Frank “Mossy” Mostin, an agent that has relationships with Johnny and Grace.
I was also really excited to see the cameo by Chris Tomlin. RJ and I have sung so much of his music, but we haven’t seen him. It was neat to see one of our musical heroes in a movie that addresses being a Christian performer.
The music in the movie was really great. I especially loved “All I’ve Ever Needed” and “You Never Let Go”. I loved hearing “Our God”, a Chris Tomlin favorite in a film. “Misunderstood” is also a really good song, even if it’s not a praise song.
The costumes in the movie were lovely. I appreciated that we didn’t see too much skin and even the glamorous clothes were not immodest.
One of the problems that I did have was that sometimes the screen would flash in a certain way that seemed very amateurish and reminded of me of commercials for TV movies from the 90s. It’s hard enough for Christian movies to get taken seriously, so it’s really imperative that Christian filmmakers continually strive for higher quality in every area. I do feel that this movie was very well made and that’s why that detail really stuck out as out of place.
I really enjoyed this movie and I look forward to reading Own It, a book used in the movie that talks about how to own your faith instead of just having Christianity imposed by your upbringing. Lots of us who grew up with church being mandatory may have inherited rituals and religious, but we can’t inherit faith- that has to be personal. The inherited rituals can lead to a lot of dissatisfaction, anger and confusion. I grew up in church and was hurt so many times by people in the church and had so much baggage that by the time I was 20 I couldn’t be in a church without being sick. Thankfully, after many years of searching on our own how to follow God, we found a church that helped us understand how to really be followers. I’m always grateful for the help that they gave us on our faith journey. If you are struggling because you feel like your faith is based on ritual, rather than trusting the Lord and serving him out of love and gratitude, then I would recommend seeking out a church or person to help you. Or try reading Own It (when I read the book, I’ll share a review of that too), I do own my faith now- not because someone makes me go to youth group or wear a purity ring, but because I love Jesus and I want to follow him. I think this movie is a powerful reminder of the need to own our faith and seek to follow God in every area of our life. Following him means giving every area to him. I know that I try to snatch back some areas that I want to keep for myself. But, Grace Unplugged worked better than a sermon for me as a reminder that I need to serve him with all I have and find a way to praise or honor him in all areas of my life. I don’t think that means that you have to give up all non-praise music. I was a little bothered by that being implied in the film- I didn’t like that. But, I need to make sure that everything serves as bridge to him.
Inspiration and a chance to worship in a movie theater (I was very quietly singing along by the end)- that’s always a good thing!
Kari’s Rating- 8
I always love the opportunity to review Christian movies. Our first ever review for this blog was the movie Courageous. A big part of why we wanted to do this blog was to highlight media in a critical Christian perspective. In the time we’ve reviewed, Christian movies overall have improved, and Grace Unplugged is a good example of this improvement.
Most of the acting performances here were really good. Kevin Pollack oozed smarmy charm in his role as Mossy. He’s the kind of guy you’d really want on your side AJ Michalka showed a good internal tension when portraying Grace. The whole time she shows you that something just isn’t right inside with Grace. James Denton was the most impressive as Johnny Trey. A long time ago when Kari and I used to watch Desperate Housewives (not anything we’d watch now, and not anything we’re remotely proud of) he was always my favorite, but didn’t seem to show much range. Here is a different character that’s struggling with being a good dad and Denton knocks it out of the park. The only low note performance was Shawnee Smith, who doesn’t really do a lot of anything when she’s onscreen.
Overall the writing of the characters is believable and satisfying. The subjects are primarily Christians who don’t have it all figured out, and one bible verse isn’t what saves the day. What we’re seeing sounds like it could really be a tough time in a family’s walk with the Lord, not just a whole movie of sermon.
With music being such a big focus of this movie it would have had to be good to feel genuine. Likely that is why musicians figured so prominently into the cast, Michalka of 78violet (formerly Aly and AJ) and Denton a former worship leader himself among many others. The music is very well done.
I did have some problem with the idea that all pop music must be bad, and in order to be using your gifts for God you have to be playing only Contemporary Christian Music. It is possible to create wholesome music that isn’t praise music, and win people with your personal testimony. But in the end, that’s a pretty small gripe for a movie that was so enjoyable.
(All images are courtesy of graceunplugged.com)