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There is a reason that The Prodigal Son is arguably the most well-known parable of the Bible, even among those who have never read Scripture. Perhaps one explanation for this widespread popularity is the story’s relatable quality. Plenty of people have had the experience of regretting choices and needing to return, hat in hand, to their loved ones. But for some, taking the humble road back is not an option. For others, it seems impassible.
An entertaining film for the whole family, Backroads and Lilies shows that the road of life and the road back home are not easy to travel, but enough truth, forgiveness, and love can lead the way to a new beginning.
Alza Bennett is determined to go home for Easter. Skipping out on her family’s Christmas celebration the year before has left Alza with a growing sense of guilt, compounded by the secrets she tries to hide with layers of lies. But the smart businesswoman knows what to do—she’ll put on such a fabulous Easter celebration when she gets home that her family will have nothing but approval and accolades for the person she has turned out to be.
Providence, however, has other plans. Only shortly into the trip, Alza’s car dies, and she finds herself stranded with a dead cell phone for company. Not about to let a few difficulties keep her from Easter with the family, Alza searches for a phone to use.
The sullen, anti-social cowboy she finds instead is not her first pick for help, but he is the only option. Still with no working phone in sight, Alza is getting desperate—enough to offer the cowboy a heap of money if he will drive her the long distance to her parents’ house. Though talking to anyone is dead last on the list of Lincoln’s desires, he needs money for his farm. Against his better judgment, he agrees to the deal.
The “spoiled princess” and “hermit” pile into a restored antique truck for the long, adventure-filled journey on back roads. These polar opposite strangers may not be able to stand each other, but they are about to find out that a little antagonism, just like unexpected twists in the road, can bring about transformation and even help them find their way home.
Any modern movie lover can attest to the rarity of finding a film about adults that is safe and entertaining for the whole family to watch together. Backroads is one such gem. One use of the phrase, “working my butt off,” is the closest the movie gets to crudity. Writer/director Jefferson Moore makes a laudable effort to keep the film free of offensive language, even replacing the common misuse of God’s name with “Oh, my gosh.” The use of this replacement phrase does get a bit extreme, however, as it pops up over a dozen times.
Still, with no actual profanities or obscenities, and completely devoid of any sexual content, Backroads takes the high road in aiming to make a family-friendly film that teaches more than one valuable lesson. Truth, family, forgiveness, and the importance of community top the list of positive messages in the story. God and the idea of being a “better person” are also discussed, and a church sermon plays a prominent role in Alva’s emotional journey.
Yet, despite the mentions of Christianity and one reference to a conversion, God and Christian truths are not as present or vital in this movie as in a typical Christian or “faith-based” film. In one sense, the lack of strength and clarity given to the Christian aspects of the film reduce the impact the work could have had, particularly for evangelizing secular audiences.
Though not as powerfully evangelistic as it could have been, there are still plenty of positive messages to be gleaned from this film. But, Backroads does not feel like a series of lessons. Rather, the uplifting themes are threaded through a fun, lighthearted story about real people dealing with real life. With clever comedy and a few unexpected twists, this movie turns into a classic, fun road trip tale that viewers of all ages will enjoy.
The cinematography is straightforward, fitting the TV-movie feel of the film. The script, while imperfect, reveals Moore’s creativity and insight into human emotions, even if it lacks polish. An actor, as well, Moore plays the role of Lincoln with a similar lack of refined skill, but sufficient competency. Moore hit pay dirt in the casting of newcomer Christina Karis in the role of Alva. Captivating, intelligent, and natural, Karis grounds the film with much-needed authenticity, in both comedic and dramatic scenes.
Can a prodigal find a way home to a new life? As long as the prodigal is willing to learn and change along the way, Backroads says the answer is yes.