A host at the screening of Grace Unplugged I attended pleaded with the audience to buy out a movie theater auditorium for the film's opening night. We were chastised for going to see The Hunger Games, which, we were told, evangelical Christians frequented at a higher rate than any other demographic. Wouldn't we rather have more movies like Grace than more movies like Hunger? Better reach for our wallets. Otherwise, we had only ourselves to blame when our daughters started emulating Katniss Everdeen.
I've always found this kind of cause marketing puzzling. It seems to tacitly admit that the product is not good enough to sell tickets on its own. I'm not against niche marketing; there is actually something a little refreshing about seeing a Christian film stop worrying about crossover appeal and just making the faith content explicit. But doesn't it still have to be a good movie?
Grace Trey has just turned eighteen. She sings in the praise band at church under the direction of her father, Johnny Trey, a former professional singer who prefers the down-on-the-suburban-farm life to touring. Dad and daughter fight about all sorts of generic family stuff, but mostly about her not following his direction during the praise numbers.
When a talent show cover of Johnny's biggest hit renews interest, Johnny's friend and former manager, Frank "Mossy" Mostin, comes knocking. He has what Grace thinks is the opportunity of a lifetime: resume recording, resume touring, and resume being a star. Dad's not interested, but the lure of bright lights and big cities is too much for Grace. She steals Johnny's song and sends a copy to Mossy. Pretty soon she's on her prodigal daughter journey to Hollywood Gomorrah. Will her upbringing, conscience, and the intervention of a faithful Christian intern help get her back on the right track before she does anything with deeper consequences than shame and regret?
I can't really imagine anyone in Grace Unplugged going to see a movie like Grace Unplugged. Grace and her friends would be downloading videos of her hero, Renae Taylor. Dad and Mom would be too busy going to church and keeping their movie-set home immaculately spotless. Plus, you know, Johnny (James Denton) is just not interested in pop culture. The entertainment industry is a cauldron of sin, and the less we all have to do with it the better. Maybe Johnny would be the kind of parent to buy out a theater and tell his daughter she has to go or he will punish her by kicking her out of the praise band. And maybe Grace would go out of obedience. But more likely, she would tell Dad she was going, and then sneak into Katy Perry: Part of Me instead.
It's not that Grace Unplugged has a bad message: it just doesn't happen to be a great movie. Because of that, it tries to sell its message, rather than integrate it into a dramatic or entertaining story. And that's a shame, given how few contemporary family films there are about and for girls. Since Grace is eighteen, I feel like I should cross out "girls" and insert "young women" there, but Grace Unplugged thinks of and treats its heroine as a girl. Grace Trey in the city is treated more like Kevin McCallister in Home Alone 2 than Mary Richards in The Mary Tyler Moore Show.