Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

The independent romantic drama Old Fashioned came out of the gate strong in it’s three preview markets–Orlando, Washington D.C., and Grand Rapids–posting a hefty per screen average of $12,988/screen. This weekend the film is opening wide for a St. Valentine’s Day showdown with its polar opposite in terms of attitude and temperament. While it’s hard to imagine the small-but-sincere movie outdrawing the much more highly-hyped studio-backed S&M-themed Fifty Shades of Grey, a strong box office showing will demonstrate that an untapped market exists for films built on the old-fashioned values of love and mutual respect. 

Speaking of the film’s early success, producer Nathan Nazario says “Audiences are responding to Old Fashioned‘s simple message that chivalry is not dead, and real love is worth waiting for.”

Below the trailer, you can read a synopsis of Old Fashioned, followed by my mini-review and conversation with writer/director/star Rik Swartzwelder — who has a name like Schwarzenegger but a look reminiscent of a young Redford.

Synopsis (from the film’s website): A romantic-drama, OLD FASHIONED centers on Clay Walsh, a former frat boy who gives up his reckless carousing and now runs an antique shop in a small Midwestern college town. There, he has become notorious for his lofty and outdated theories on love and romance as well as for his devout belief in God. When Amber Hewson, a free-spirited young woman with a restless soul, drifts into the area and rents the apartment above his shop, she finds herself surprisingly drawn to his strong faith and noble ideas, which are new and intriguing to her. And Clay, though he tries to fight and deny it, simply cannot resist being attracted to her spontaneous and passionate embrace of life. Ultimately, Clay must step out from behind his relational theories and Amber must overcome her own fears and deep wounds as the two of them, together, attempt the impossible: an “old-fashioned” and God-honoring courtship in contemporary America.
Mini-Review:  The name pretty much says it all.  Old Fashioned is a celebration of old-fashioned romance. In this case, a repentant frat boy (Rik Swartzwelder) who has taken his overall positive turn toward faith to, perhaps, a level bordering on unhealthy religiosity with a non-religious young woman (Elizabeth Ann Roberts) with emotional wounds of her own. In the end, both individuals have something to learn from the other.  It’s precisely because Old Fashioned respects both its main characters and treats them with compassion that the film works so well.  It has some nice things to say about the value of forgiveness — including self forgiveness. The film also has a nice gentle sense of humor that runs throughout. For those reasons, along with the fact I’d love to see it beat the box office crap out of Fifty Shades of Grey, Old Fashioned is Recommended. 
A Conversation with Rik Swartzwelder

JWK: What is Old Fashioned about and what do you hope people take from it?

RIK SWARTZWELDER: Old Fashioned is a love story. It’ a romantic drama. It’s about a former frat boy and a free-spirited woman who together attempt what many would consider impossible today. That’s an old-fashioned God-honoring courtship in contemporary America. When you have a title like Old Fashioned,  you start thinking of the 1800’s or it Amish country or it’s two 16-year-olds who have never been on a date (and) have their families around them giving them rules. We’re sort of approaching it from a different angle in that it’s happening right now (to adults) in contemporary America and that is just as messy as can be in terms of just how complicated (it is) because we live in a culture that doesn’t necessarily affirm that approach to dating…We’re also trying to take this idea of “old fashioned,” that phrase, and sort of flipping it and giving it a positive connotation — because it can, sometimes, have a negative ring to it.

In terms of what I hope people watching it take away from (the film), it depends on (where they are) coming in. At the end of the day, this is a movie. I love a great sermon but, if I want a great sermon or a great homily, I’ll find that in church. When we go to the movies, we want to be entertained. I hope people have an entertaining night at the movies. I hope they laugh a little, I hope they cry a little and I hope, maybe, they’re taken out of their own lives for just a couple of hours.

Deeper than that, sort of on the secondary level, I hope that if someone walks into our movie — and I’m seen this happen over and over again at some of the screenings I’ve attended personally — and they have a measure of brokenness from a past relationship or romantic damage — either somebody’s hurt them in the past or, maybe, they’ve hurt somebody else and they carry regret  and kind of feel disqualified from love, that they’re not worthy to be loved — they  might walk out of that film with a measure of healing and wholeness they didn’t have going in.

And, if someone comes into our film and, maybe, they don’t take the idea of love being something sacred seriously, I would hope that our film might challenge them and maybe raise the bar in their own romantic lives — to aim higher and to sort of have an awakening of what true love is supposed to be.

JWK: How have younger audiences been responding to the film?

RS: They were cheering…The pendulum is sort swinging back for the younger generation, with the millennials. They know this hook-up culture is broken because they’re living that out at younger and younger ages. So, I think they’re learning sooner than others about just how empty that is. So, to hear them cheering for our character Clay — who we really make fun of for a majority of the film — and the stand he’s taking, even though he’s such a weird guy, I find that very encouraging.

JWK: Do you feel that there’s, perhaps, an aching among the younger generation for relationships that are more…?

RS: It’s hard to find the word. You want to say “wholesomer” but that’s not really it. I know what you mean (and) I do.

I’ve been blogging for the film to so I have had to research a lot of the blogs that have been written. Some of them have been by young girls who are not even in the Church. They’re not religious young people and they’re calling for a higher standard. I actually think we’re at a point in history where the Church is kind of timid to be too bold when it comes to anything that has to do with sex because we don’t want to appear to be judgmental or condemning. And I appreciate that. But I also think we have to remember there are young people that haven’t had the benefit of any moral teaching at home. We can’t be afraid just because we don’t want to end up being a joke on The Daily Show and be dismissed by Jon Stewart or brushed away as irrelevant. We have to remember that some young people (don’t even) know that there is a better way. We have to be willing to say “Look, we’re not saying that you have to be perfect or that if you’ve (messed up) that you’re disqualified but there is a higher standard we should all be shooting for.” Even if we fall short, we have to acknowledge the standard.

JWK: Old Fashioned is opening against Fifty Shades of Grey which takes a very different stance on love and romance. The film is getting a lot of hype and has a ton of marketing money behind it. Is that a little intimidating?

RS: It’s a fascinating juxtaposition. When I was writing the original screenplay for Old Fashioned it was before that book (Fifty Shades of Grey) even got published. We weren’t making the film knowing we were going to (compete). We were just telling a love story but, when we finished the film and we were looking at release windows we saw that opportunity…It’s not to condemn, not to judge but to try and broaden the cultural conversation, to sort of ask “What do we really want in love and romance? What do we believe about love. What do we believe about love being something sacred? What do we long for in our own hearts, not just for ourselves but for our sons and daughters? What kind of legacy do we want to leave to them? (We want) to ask those questions and have those discussions because, make no mistake, the stuff that we lift up culturally is the stuff people will follow.

That’s the real issue with Fifty Shades because the reality is that any kid with a computer and no parental guidance can see far worse in about ten seconds…Fifty Shades is going to be rated “R.” The big difference culturally with Fifty Shades is that the trailer for it debuted on The Today Show. I mean it’s not fringe. They’re saying we embrace this culturally as a whole.

JWK: In contrast, have you had the same access to mainstream media to promote Old Fashioned?

RS: Obviously they (the marketers of Fifty Shades) have a level of media access that we don’t. I mean it’s made under the Universal banner. Universal owns the NBC network. That’s how you get on The Today Show. That’s the funnel. They clearly have more money to work with and more media access than we will ever have (but we’re getting some) national major exposure.

Here’s the thing that’s been fascinating to me. When we announced that we were gonna release the same weekend, it got picked up by Time Magazine, Hollywood Reporter (and even) MTV, ironically enough. And they were remarkably fair. They evenhandedly dealt with us. There are unusual, unexpected allies. Not everybody things Fifty Shades of Grey is great or has drunk that Kool-Aid.

JWK: There is a surprising number of people in Hollywood that would like to see kinder, gentler entertainment — but they aren’t necessarily in positions of power.

RS: That’s true but (their influence) is growing.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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