Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Preaching to the Choir, Series 1: The Kendrick Brothers. Film 1: “Flywheel”

“Flywheel” is preceded by a short message from Alex Kendrick, essentially warning people about the production values and explaining the context in which the film was made.  A “church movie” never intended to be viewed beyond their local community, it is a testament to God at work in these productions that anyone else has even heard of this film, much less that it would be available to rent or buy now anywhere.

Yes, by Hollywood’s priority-disordered standards, where even a “low budget” film costs enough to feed starving masses for a lifetime, this film looks and feels “cheap.”  But sit down to watch it with the mindset of “this movie was made by a local church—like mine,” and all that falls away.  What makes the greatest impression is the quality of the writing, which even in this very first effort of a bunch of “media ministry” guys trying to figure out how to make a film, stands up very well. 

The strongest thing about the story is that the characters do not suffer from that all-too-prevalent “Christian movie” pathology of the goody-good syndrome.  Often, Christian filmmakers (even the ones with money!) seem reluctant to put any real conflict in a story, and/or to present characters with any real flaws.  The main characters are usually “pretty good guys” with “sorta kinda” problems.  The whole impression is milquetoast boring at best, and insufferably patronizing at its worst.  The engine of a story IS conflict—without real conflict, there is no drive.  And the interest of a character is in his transformation—if your character is already “pretty much there,” there’s no engaging journey we can take with him.  The Kendricks get this, and as a result, all of their films have stories worth watching.

God is definitely pouring real creative spirit into the Kendrick brothers.  Even this very first film has actual “teeth.”  Jay Austin is genuinely despicable when the film opens; he is the salesman you truly fear when you go to buy a used car.  At home, he’s a nasty husband and a neglectful, thoughtless father.  His very pregnant and very frustrated wife is sarcastic and disrespectful.  His kid openly admits to a friend that he doesn’t want to grow up to be anything like his dad.  All of this is developed naturally, not stereotypically; this family is written as very real people (aside from the fact that they seem to have the world’s unhealthiest eating habits—although, considering the state of most Americans’ health these days, maybe that is pretty real, too). 

The story turns on what happens when this very-superficially “Christian” man is pushed to the point that he must admit he needs God and give his life over to Christ.  Unlike other “come-to-Jesus” films, however, that’s not anything like the ending; they’re just getting started.  It appears we’re in for a simple, “turn your life over to God and live happily ever after” message, but the Kendricks have more to say than that.  Sin still has worldly consequences, life still has potholes and bumps in the road, but their clever and well-crafted story gives us a glimpse into how the highway of life becomes a different experience when you give God the wheel. 

A keeper.

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