Though Reconciliation is not a great movie—its low-budget, slow-paced, melodramatic direct-to-DVD production is lacking in artistic excellence—the film nevertheless deserves praise for handling tricky, timely, and oftentimes taboo subject matter for the church.
Grant Taylor is a hard-working Christian, loving husband, and expectant father with a secret that he has kept buried for years out of shame. His wife Sara confronts him about it after receiving a phone call from a hospital looking for Grant "McDowell" with news that his father Jeff is dying of AIDS. It turns out that Grant changed his name when he was 18 to distance himself from his father, a homosexual.
Now Jeff wants to see his son one last time. Encouraged by Sara and convicted by his pastor's recent sermon, Grant reluctantly makes the road trip just days before his father's death and his son's birth. But Grant is still ashamed of Jeff's lifestyle, and worried that he'll become a bad father due to his own father's absence. This makes him unprepared for what to say to his father, or for that matter Jeff's partner Patrick, who initially treats Grant with skepticism and anger for neglecting his father's love for so long.
What follows primarily involves long conversations at the hospital with flashbacks to Grant and Jeff's past. Reconciliation lives up to its title, and I suppose it also gives away the ending (as if that were ever in question). But it's also a film that operates on multiple levels: a dramatic tearjerker on par with a Lifetime movie that demonstrates the tension between Christian culture and the homosexual community, and an example of how the church can more effectively minister to that community.
But it's a chore to slog through. The plot is pokey, riddled with clichéd details that often go nowhere. For example, it's important to first establish Grant and Sara as a couple to understand their characterizations. But writer/director Chad Ahrendt lazily settles for the old "husband too busy with work for his wife" routine—Grant even forgets their anniversary—only to completely abandon that subplot after the first 10 minutes. If Grant's job isn't vital to the story, then why not simply depict a well-adjusted couple? They've got enough to struggle with here.
From there it's all emotional conversation running on autopilot. We know Grant and Jeff will start off awkwardly in conversation but slowly work their way towards reconciliation—and you can bet it'll lead to weepy declarations of love underscored by schmaltzy piano music. Jeff asks Grant early on what he'll name his son, and later the movie tries to make an emotional revelation out of the obvious answer.
It doesn't help that Reconciliation is plagued with several dull musical montages or that many of the characters come across as two-dimensional, if not overplayed caricatures. Sara is less a real person than a device for Grant to voice (mostly over the phone) his inner worries and frustrations. Jeff's nurse Angela is too sweet and perfect, saying just the right thing every time to facilitate reconciliation between father and son. The portrayal of Grant as a teen disowning his father in front of some insensitive Christians at graduation is flat-out embarrassing in its staginess. But homosexuals will be just as embarrassed by the over-the-top portrayal of Billy, the gay lover who joined Jeff and Grant on a camping trip twenty years prior (really?) and later ruined Grant's tenth birthday party with unbelievably campy cruelty.
At least the three leads are pretty good. Eric Nenninger (most recently seen in a popular HGTV-styled Super Bowl ad for Bud Light) is likable as Grant; though a little too indecisive and aloof at times, he successfully balances awkwardness and conviction. Jack Maxwell is also capable, considering that he spends half the movie in bed as Jeff, depicting him as loving, kind, and remorseful. But hands down, Gregory Zarian brings the most emotional spark as Patrick, realistically portraying him with a complex mixture of pain, prejudice, and compassion.
None of this alone makes Reconciliation worth mentioning or recommending. But Ahrendt is thoughtful with the subject, handling both sides about as well as could be expected without completely alienating gays or Christians. If the first hour of the movie is used to establish the tension and prejudices between Christians and homosexuals, the final 30 minutes help foster reconciliation as Jeff explains why he once rejected his faith but ultimately embraced it again.
Reconciliation offers no major revelations on this great debate, but succeeds in properly framing the issues. It always boils down to two questions: Is homosexuality a choice, and does God consider it a sin? Scripture is pretty clear on the latter question. But this film distinguishes between sin and temptation, noting that any addictive behavior (pornography, alcohol, overeating, shopping) is a choice that we use to "de-god God." Anything we put ahead of the Lord is an idol, but forgiveness is available to anyone who repents in Jesus' name, even if we still struggle with that temptation.
Neither side of the debate will be completely satisfied with Chaplain Tim's explanations to Jeff and Patrick. But Reconciliation at least tries to get everyone on the right track, showing that we're all—gay or straight, Christian or not—capable of temptation, selfishness, and judgment. The movie is overly slow and weepy, but at least it has the guts to tackle a subject that the church needs to confront and rethink without compromising God's Word. In that much, Reconciliation inspires thought, sparks conversation, and ultimately rings true.Discussion starters
- Grant's pastor says in a sermon, "As God loves us, so we must love everyone. Love goes beyond tolerance or acceptance. The double standard must end." What does he mean? What double standard? How can the church do better to overcome this double standard?
- Do you believe homosexuality is a sin? Why is homosexuality listed as a sin in the Bible? Does God single it out from other sins? Does God hate homosexuals, or the acts of homosexuality? Does God love us less when we return to our sins? What makes us right with God?
- How is sin different from temptation? Do you believe homosexuality to be a genetic predisposition or a choice? Can it be both? Are there other sins that are both?
- What do you think of Chaplain Tim's message to homosexuals? Is he too sympathetic, too strict, or right in line with what the Bible teaches?
- Why is Grant concerned that he will be a bad father? How did the absence of his father in his life contribute to this way of thinking? Why is his logic flawed?
- What is the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation? Is Jeff seeking Grant's forgiveness before he dies? Is Grant seeking forgiveness from his father? What has to happen before they're able to reconcile with each other?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Reconciliation is not rated, but contains thematic content that would likely earn it a PG-13 rating. The film deals frankly with the subject of homosexuality, including matters of AIDS, conception, contraception, and a reference to the film Brokeback Mountain. The dialogue generally steers clear of profanity, though the word "fag" is used once.
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