Old Fashioned, releasing on Valentine’s Day weekend, seeks to make an art of being old-fashioned.
An independent film with some of the genre’s typical strengths and weaknesses, Old Fashioned gets off to a slow start and meanders its way through character development and early romance. But even though much of the film drags, the strong lead characters, its charming warmth, and the rising tension at the end make this film worth staying with. And that’s not even mentioning the refreshingly quirky exploration of a Christian view of dating and relationships that Old Fashioned offers.
Clay (played by the film's writer-director, Rik Swartzwelder) is the solitary owner of an antiques shop who is known in his small home town for his eccentric views on dating, marriage, and relationships. A former frat boy, Clay is a devout Christian whose single-minded pursuit of right living has led him to be rigid and lonely. Amber (Elizabeth Roberts), is a free-spirited young woman with an unstable past who comes to town because she has run out of gas money. The traditional-values Clay and the nothing-can-hold-me Amber could not seem more opposite, but attraction sparks pretty quickly between them.
Highly opinionated in how he has chosen to live his life, Clay feels alone in holding his own against the tide, not even going to church any more. Alternately intriguing and long-winded in his theories about dating, relationships, and marriage, Clay remains a bit of a mystery. Gradually we start to realize that Clay’s rigid life might ensure that he doesn’t go back to his old ways, but it might also blind him to true openness to love. At the same time, Amber finds herself gradually drawn to the respect and honor that Clay offers her, and she starts to hope that she has finally found a man she can trust. The unconventional couple follow an idiosyncratic path of getting to know each other, one that also challenges them to accept their differences. Eventually, as the woundedness from the past catches up to them and makes it seem they could never be truly compatible, both are faced with a choice to go back to their old ways.
The slow-moving plot fits the theme and Clay’s character, but it takes some patience to stay with the film through the midpoint. The unevenness in the dialogue doesn’t help—it alternates between being way too long, even preachy in places, with other moments where the writing is so spare and understated that my writerly soul rejoiced. The attention to character development, visual details, and subtext (like Meet John Doe playing in the background in a scene where the dialogue is about greatness!), and the film’s overall integrity, will carry the art house film buff and others who have a little patience through to the film’s much stronger ending.
The script has wonderful moments that lay a solid foundation for honesty in relationships, respect for women, honoring commitments, and relying on the grace of God to be faithful and loving human beings. For Christians, Old Fashioned offers richer depths. For example, in some ways, Clay’s character could represent the Law (or the importance of living according to the Christian moral code), while Amber could represent grace. They may struggle to get along, but need each other to be whole and holy.
Here are just a few of the script’s precious nuggets:
“Most people know more about someone after a job interview for delivering pizzas than they do after most dates.”
“The world has too much greatness and not enough goodness.”
“When did treating women with respect become the joke?”
“Commitment should come first, not the other way around.”
“When he held my hand, it felt like home.”
“Stop using the grace of God as a brick wall.”
Can Old Fashioned stand up against Fifty Shades of Gray in the box office on Valentine’s Day? If it could, it would be a sign of hope for our culture. In many ways, Old Fashioned does in today’s media culture what Clay sought to do in his small town: stand against the prevalent tragic tide of the disrespect and objectification of women (as exemplified in Fifty Shades of Gray). Old Fashioned promises that a genuine relationship is not about using each other. True love is not out of date nor old-fashioned, but like great art, true love is timeless and enduring.
Old Fashioned opens in theaters this weekend.