THIS WEEK on Torments, Sierra takes a look at a winkingly-marketed chaste-sploitation flick in time for the release of Fifty Shades Darker. Oh boy.
In February 2015, two ‘romantic’ films were released starring women who fall in love with male leads whose ideas of romantically wooing a girl are indistinguishable from those of a serial killer. One was 50 Shades of Grey, and the other was what was billed as its Christian alternative: Old Fashioned.
Old Fashioned tells us the story of Clay Walsh (portrayed by writer-director Rik Swartzwelder), owner of the antique shop ‘Old Fashioned’, and Amber (Elizabeth Ann Roberts), a woman from out of town who rents the apartment above Old Fashioned from him. In their first interactions we learn that Clay has a very different (or old fashioned, if you will) view of dating and romance: he refuses to be alone in the same room with a woman unsupervised and he believes dating doesn’t prepare us to be “good husbands and wives.”
Rather than turning around in the opposite direction and running, Amber inexplicably finds this charming and goes on something of a quest to court him, predominantly by breaking things in her newly rented apartment so that he has to come over and fix them (though, in accordance with his rules, she has to stand outside of the apartment when he is inside fixing her stuff), eventually wearing him down and setting them on the path of ‘dating.’
If it sounds like I’m a bit down on this film’s idea of romance, it’s because I am. Amber comes from that rather insidious line of female archetypes: the manic pixie dream girl. She’s infinitely spirited, charming, patient and quirky and she almost instantaneously falls for Clay. He’s a handsome enough guy but the most logical explanation for the strength of her attraction him is that he is the main character, and she exists to push him through a character arc; their barely existent compatibility is secondary. At least to Old Fashioned’s credit, the other characters seem to share my bafflement at Amber’s attraction to Clay.
Her co-workers find Clay creepy, while Clay’s friends and mother desperately plea for him to act like a normal person and date her before she sees sense. Clay is juxtaposed against his two best friends: David, a father who lives with his partner Lisa and conveniently pops the question to her (after eight years of “living in sin”) just in time for Amber to become part of their inner circle and be able to demonstrate her motherly instincts to their child to impress Clay; and Brad, a misogynistic radio host against whom any man could appear to be a gentleman, which nevertheless fails to mask Clay’s disturbing attitude towards women. Brad may be a self-professed user of women, but he is at least able to share a room with them unsupervised.
Old Fashioned comes to us from Pure Flix, the self-styled “#1 Christian Movie Producer”, and as a consequence it should come as no surprise that supposed ‘Christian values’ are pushed by the film. But Old Fashioned is a much less bombastic Christian film than Pure Flix’s other ventures like God’s Not Dead, War Room and Faith of Our Fathers. Whereas these films have a habit of aggressively quoting scripture at the viewer and portraying non-Christian characters as varying degrees of evil and incompetent, Old Fashioned is more concerned with idealising the romance between Clay and Amber rather than casting judgement.
Indeed, neither Clay nor Amber are quintessential innocent virgins one would expect to be championed by a Christian romance, both having misdeeds in their respective tragic pasts. Even Brad, probably the most morally repugnant character of the film, is defended by Clay as a “product of society’s values” and portrayed as a loyal friend. The narrative itself is well-paced and there is a very clear style to its cinematography, with loving idyllic shots of the woods and country fields accompanying the film’s more philosophical moments in a manner almost reminiscent of Terence Malick, though nowhere near as refined.
It’s very clear that a lot of love has gone into making this movie. However, it is ultimately let down from the start: as I ragged on in the introduction, its romantic male lead has a serial killer-like dedication to his ‘romantic’ philosophy, and any film that confuses being unable to share a room with the opposite sex (for fear of promiscuity occurring, I presume) as chivalry is probably saying more about the writer’s attitude to women than it is about society as a whole.
Despite all the bad things I can say about its central premise, Old Fashioned is a competently made film that can generate plenty of unintentional laughs as you watch its two leads live out Rik Swartzwelder’s idea of romance, and – if I’m being totally honest –if you gave me the choice between this and 50 Shades of Grey, I think there’s a world more enjoyment to be had in Old Fashioned and I’ll be very surprised if that doesn’t hold true for 50 Shades Darker. Nevertheless, I hope Pure Flix puts out a sequel in time for 50 Shades Freed’s release: 50 Shades of Clay. It writes itself!