The faith-based romance Old Fashioned is a slow, preachy romantic comedy opening Valentine’s Day week opposite Fifty Shades of Grey, counter-programming “love” that’s kinky with love from Corinthians.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud…”
But pride, or pricing, is the film’s worst enemy. The writer-director, perhaps for reasons of economy (surely not vanity) cast himself as the romantic lead. And Rik Swartzwelder, competent behind the camera, is an utter stiff on screen.
Elizabeth Roberts is Amber, bubbly and upbeat, even as she and her cat run out of gas in small-town Ohio. Her hand’s in a cast, and she uses her last cash for fuel to get her ancient Jeep Cherokee off the road. There’s an upstairs apartment above Old Fashioned, an antiques store where the meticulous and quiet Clay (Swartwelder) presides.
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He’s an odd one. Her heart-melting smiles don’t seem to move him. He won’t do a walk-through of the apartment with her. Clay has resolved to “never be alone with any woman who’s not my wife.” While that kept Billy Graham a televangelist beyond reproach, it’s incredibly off-putting for an eligible bachelor.
Clay quotes the Bible, starts a lot of sentences about dating, love and romance with “I have a theory” and is a general stick-in-the-mud. Naturally, Amber is intrigued. “Dating,” he lectures, just teaches us how to act “witty, romantic and charming.” He doesn’t believe “dating trains us to be husband and wives.”
Amber bumps into him at the market, wears him down a bit, and then starts breaking stuff in the apartment that he’ll have to come fix. But on that first date, he drags her to his pastor and picks up copies of a Christian relationship workbook. He’s firing off questions from the book that predict compatibility – “Do you believe in the death penalty? How many sexual partners have you had in the past 10 years?”
When Amber doesn’t run from this self-righteous bore, we cannot help but think “It’s only a movie.”
To his credit, Swartzwelder doesn’t people this world with anyone as one-dimensional as his character. There’s the ex-classmate shock jock (Tyler Hollinger) leaving town for the Big Time. Best friend David (LeJon Woods) and Lisa (Nina Hadjis) are an interracial couple “living in sin,” and have a child. People have wine with meals, and Amber can hit the local bar with her hot hot colleague (Lindsay Heath) from the florist shop where she finds a job, and not be painted as a harlot. This is a faith-based romance set in something like the real world.
Even Clay’s behavior has real world underpinnings. He’s a prime example of the Big Mistake Theory – people who do some great wrong or perceived wrong who suddenly embrace religion, and a little more firmly than the rest of us.
But Swartzwelder’s Clay lacks the charisma, charm or animation that would catch anybody’s eye. And it doesn’t help that the actor dresses and wears the haircut of a 40something charismatic preacher trying too hard to look younger and hipper – mop top combed-forward over his hairline, shirt tails out, relaxed fit jeans that are a little too long.
Roberts, Woods and Heath are good in lighter roles, and Dorothy Silver, playing outspoken Aunt Zella, has the funniest lines. She makes a big production of “Let us give thanks” before a meal. Everybody pauses, holds hands and closes their eyes. “Thanks” is all she says.
A shorter, slightly faster-paced version of this with a better lead might have worked. But that sounds like every maudlin Nicolas Sparks novel ever adapted for the screen. Who’d go to that?
Director: Rik Swartzwelder
Cast: Elizabeth Roberts, Rik Swartzwelder, LeJon Woods, Lindsay Heath, Tyler Hollinger
Rated: PG (some thematic material)
Running time: 115 min.