...shining light on the media, one review at a time
Follow your dreams, we’re told. From early childhood on, many Americans are instilled with the idea that they only need to work hard and keep their eyes on the prize in order to achieve their dreams and be successful. If you have extraordinary talent, all the better—your path is paved and clear.
If you had the chance to be famous, popular, beautiful, and rich, would you take it? The answer may seem obvious, perhaps even earning a rhetorical, “why wouldn’t you?” in return.
Grace Unplugged’s answer, however, is not as simple as one might expect. This film has what most Christian productions don’t—an excellent cast, creative and smart cinematography, skilled direction, and a powerful, inspirational message unblemished by negative content.
Offering the most complete package of any recent Christian film with the exception of Unconditional, Grace Unplugged deserves its spot in theatres, where it has the potential to impact many for Christ in a way few other faith-based pictures have.
Grace Trey has spent her life living in her father’s shadow. John Trey is a former rock star who became a Christian and gave up his rock music career to become a church music leader. Grace is tired of everyone thinking her dad is so cool when she thinks he’s not. To Grace, John is just the man who won’t recognize her singing ability, who stifles her creativity, and suffocates her with his restrictions.
Grace knows she has talent, and all she wants is a chance to use that talent to its fullest. That opportunity comes just as the tension with her dad reaches its peak. Going behind her parents’ backs, Grace manages to send a demo to John’s former agent, Mossy. When her risk pays off and Grace is offered the chance to become everything she’s ever dreamed, she’s not about to turn it down, no matter what the cost.
The casualties pile up as Grace chases her dream, but she doesn’t realize that the biggest sacrifice she may have to make is the one thing she needs most. By the time she sees what is at stake, will it be too late to find grace?
Sherwood Pictures, makers of the films Courageous and Fireproof, may have the marketing clout that makes their movies box office successes, but Grace Unplugged has the high quality that is more typically the measure of a movie and the reason viewers watch. Shooting past Pure Flix, the current leader in faith-based pictures of solid production quality, Grace Unplugged looks and sounds like any secular film of its genre that appears on the big screen, with one exception—audiences will leave the theatre feeling uplifted and convicted, rather than sullied or disturbed.
No characters speak the offensive language that usually peppers every other line in mainstream dramas, there is zero actual sexual content, and not a smack of violence. Unrealistic you say? Not at all. Grace Unplugged proves that creative minds can achieve more than appealing to the lowest common denominator, instead applying themselves to crafting a story that offers the relatable, accessible, and compelling qualities moviegoers want.
The story of an eighteen-year-old at odds with her overprotective, but loving father is a reality that most viewers have experienced themselves, from one side or the other. The generation gap is a real problem that people live out daily. And who hasn’t at least once dreamed of having tremendous talent and showcasing it to the world?
Grace Unplugged is a modern take on the classic tale of dramatic rise and fall, a story of rebellion, of dreams, success, and regrets. Originality comes across in every scene, however, with interesting characters, authentic situations, and well-written dialogue. Grace Unplugged also has the advantage of unusual depth for this type of plot and genre, thanks to the Christian message at its core.
Never preachy or “cheesy,” Grace Unplugged gives an incredibly accurate look into the real lives of Christians. The Christian characters are neither too perfect, nor too Hollywoodized or unrealistically flawed. They are simply Christians, some who share their faith, some who struggle with it, some who live it out, and some who stumble along the way.
As a result of this commitment to put reality and story first, Grace Unplugged entertains like few Christian films, without a hint of compromise on the content or the message. Grace is shown drinking strong alcohol in several scenes, while “sleeping around” and a man wanting to “seal the deal” and take Grace home after a date are discussed. A pop icon is also briefly shown dancing in a music video, but the sensual nature of her dance is suggested, rather than actually depicted.
Grace, however, does not engage in immoral behavior beyond lying, for which she experiences severe consequences. The aforementioned content makes the film appropriate only for mature audiences, but the taste and cleverness employed in showing these aspects of Grace’s experience ensures the complete absence of any harmful content.
Positive themes harmonize beautifully throughout the picture, including an unusually meaningful depiction of a father-daughter relationship. While not unrealistically positive, since Grace’s father certainly makes plenty of mistakes, the portrayal of John’s love for his daughter and involvement in her life is highly positive and a call to fathers everywhere to do the same with their children.
The message that resounds the loudest is the Christ-centered one. Through Grace’s struggle and the other Christian characters in the film, viewers are taken on a ride that leads to an experience of the truth that God’s love is the greatest treasure and the only thing people need. Again, the communication of this message is not heavy-handed, but is instead accomplished through contemporary, well-crafted music and through the story itself. Forgiveness, abstinence, and God’s grace are a few of the many valuable themes that are also explored.
These messages succeed without farce or artificiality in large part because of the puissant acting performances from this stellar cast. Surprisingly, John Schneider, a quality actor who has nevertheless been overused in faith-based films of late, was not called on to play the dad in this film. Instead, Grace Unplugged goes outside the box to find James Denton for the role. A choice pick indeed, Denton proves he deserves his reputation by turning in a nuanced performance that gives his character a depth and authenticity that steals the show in all his scenes.
In the crucial lead role, the fairly new AJ Michalka displays great comfort with the camera and developed range. Combine that with this actor’s je ne sais quoi, her ability to command the screen with her intensity and bright smile, and a star is born. Both Denton and Michalka are also perfect for their roles because they have singing talent. Michalka, in particular, has a distinctive and impressive voice that could likely give her a singing career to go with her acting.
Supported by a strong cast, quality direction, and skilled, creative cinematography that is applied to furthering the story, Grace Unplugged sings the notes of a melody that will reach your heart and stay there. Grace Unplugged is not an issue film. It does not strive for grittiness or to convict its audience to fight for change or a cause. Other films achieve such purposes well and are vital pictures that need to be watched and must continue to be made.
Grace Unplugged is a lighter, but still moving, production that fits a niche that hadn’t previously been filled—popular genre, quality entertainment with a Christian twist. Offering entertainment and broad accessibility, this is a faith-based movie that one needn’t be hesitant to show to non-Christian friends. Grace Unplugged isn’t a film that you need to go see out of obligation, in order to support Christian movies. You need to go see it because you’ll love it.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” – Ephesians 2:8