Release Date: 2015
Genre: romance, Christian
My Rating: **
Official Rating: Unrated
Age Group: 18+
Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is...
Chivalry makes a comeback.
So the front of the DVD case says. The movie starts with, "Love makes your soul crawl from its hiding place" credited to Zora Neal Hurston.
Amber comes rolling into town, where her car runs out of gas. So, that's where she settles. She rents a place from a guy who owns the antique shop below her little apartment. He's weird, doesn't talk much, and makes her sit on the step whenever he needs to fix any of the appliances in her apartment. Amber, on the other hand, is a free spirit. While Clay might have turned his back on his wild college days completely, Amber likes to have fun, though she's not a party girl, exactly. She just likes to have a good time and not tie herself down.
Really though, she just hasn't found a place she can call home.
Amber and Clay decide they like each other. Ok. So Clay says, "My rules" and Amber says "Sure, as long as you ask me out." He does. And his rules are weird. They get a marriage prep book from the local pastor. Their dates aren't normal, there is no kissing, barely any touching, and they are never to be alone. He says what they're doing isn't dating, because that doesn't lead to good things.
So what are they doing? And why?
Word of Warning
This section is going to be a little strange. Having given my age recommendation, my main concern isn't the content exactly, it's the philosophy. So while I'll briefly list the objectionable content here, I'm also going to share my concerns with the philosophy.
- Radio. The radio has a lot of awful things to say about women. While there is a person behind the radio, the things said are quite disturbing and very sexist (and I don't usually use that word seriously, but I am here).
- Mention of seductive ladies ready to win a bachelor; women are stupid, also a mention of "hot stupid women"; mocking of a sweet, faithful, good woman or man; mention of a "luscious body"; mention of a woman getting "knocked up"; the question "what is the point of marriage?" with no answer proposed by the speaker or even the movie
- A man swipes a picture of a woman. The picture belongs to another man. (goodness, I had to make that two sentences to make it make sense and not sound wrong)
- Clay apparently made old videos with college girls. We see the girls acting flirty for the camera, and later Amber watches a video and cries, but we don't see the screen. Everything is implied.
- A friend asks Clay for the "story about the redhead that summer and her ______" (the blank is filled with what is meant to be a suggestive nod)
- A friend mocks Clay's "I wouldn't do anything to her that I wouldn't want done to me" motto.
- Quite a few veiled references to sex. It is also mentioned outright a few times, once when Amber claims that "sex takes practice" for one of the reasons one shouldn't wait for marriage.
- Amber claims to be spiritual, not religious (logical contradiction there), and Clay has stopped going to church because of the hypocrites there.
- A couple with kids is living together. The woman doesn't see the point in getting married and resists whenever it is mentioned.
- The ideal honeymoon: not a single distraction from building intimacy with a life-long bride. (which is really sweet, but still something parents should be aware of)
- When trying to understand why Clay is so weird, Amber's coworkers muse that he's gay, has a disease, or has a "tiny problem"
- The question "how many sexual partners have you had?" is asked outright. Spoiler: the answer is not one.
- Clay seems to think dating and the hook up culture are the same (they're not).
- Careless mention of an extramarital affair.
- On her honeymoon, a woman says she cried herself to sleep, trying to figure out why her new husband wanted to watch [pause] on TV than touch her.
- A stripper starts to remove clothes (she gets as far as her scarf and jacket) at a bachelor party.
- Drinking. Characters get drunk.
- Interestingly enough, even with all this, characters are for the most part modestly dressed.
Amber's stove won't work. She calls Clay. He comes up to fix it, but tells her she needs to sit on the step while he does so. They can't be in the same house alone, he says. So she sits out there, wrapped in a blanket, and waits for him to fix her stove.
This is just one of Clay's many rules. Don't get me wrong, the rules aren't bad. It's just what he uses them for. Clay uses the rules to avoid facing any difficulties, to hide. No, I am not saying one should put oneself in a dangerous situation for the purpose of facing difficulty, nor that one shouldn't try to avoid it. I am saying Clay is using these rules to protect himself emotionally as well. Rules are good, so long as their purpose is kept in mind, and they are not followed blindly. Clay says no sex before marriage. Right on. He also says no kissing before marriage (fun fact: the Catholic Church, aside from warning against arousal, doesn't have any objections to a chaste kiss). Nothing good happens after 11pm, Clay declares. He's probably right.
But he's also wrong. He uses the rules to shut things out. This is not courting in the traditional sense (like the movie implies). It's dating, something Clay claims to be determined to avoid. But dating is not inherently evil, though the movie tries to convince you that it is. It tries to tell you that you're better than that, that you deserve more than dating. Clay says dating teaches you to be witty, charming, and romantic--and somehow these are negative things. But are they really inherently bad? No, they're not.
And, he uses his set of rules (a "theory" he calls them) to claim that it's not our job to seek a romantic partner, they just come to us and we do what we should with them. A soulmate, he explains. Fun fact #2: the Catholic Church doesn't teach that either. And it doesn't say there is anything wrong with looking. So long as it is done properly and for the right reasons and in the right way.
The basic idea of respecting women is wonderful. Thumbs up for that! But the way that idea is carried out is unsatisfying, and there's a reason for that: rules only work when they're based on something and when they can be looked at for their meaning. They must have a heart. Take the Ten Commandments. Suppose I decided to doubt them. You could go through and explain why they should still be upheld, even if I wasn't a religious person. This movie is like Josh Harris's I Kissed Dating Goodbye book. It's a nice idea, but without any grounding, and it's not really clear how to do the idea either. The beauty of the Catholic Church is that it has reasons for what it teaches, it can stand on something.
But Clay can't. He has ideas about how the world works, and for the most part he's right. Then he sets up rules based on the ideas, and these result in the very thing he set out to avoid: causing suffering to a woman he loves. For some reason, this is glorified.
It's not right. It's incredibly frustrating.
Rules are good. But they need a heart, a reason, a why that matches up with the rule. The rule should produce the result the why was pointing at. Clay's don't.
"Life isn't all warm fuzzies."
"It's not all rules either."
But Amber's "warm fuzzies" don't really win out in the end. In fact, she's shown as the one doing the pursuing in the entire relationship. Clay's rules win. The movie tries to propose that there was a compromise, but if you look closely at the philosophy of it, there wasn't. Not really. Those fuzzies were squashed.
I don't disagree with the rules or the value of rules, particularly in a delicate situation like this. I do disagree with their approach to dating (see this article for a very interesting write up on courting).
Think of flowers as a rule. On Valentines day, that's when and how they're properly used. Now think of flowers on any other day of the year and how nice it is to get them out of the blue, because of what they mean.
But Clay's rules drive his girlfriend to seek drunken comfort in the arms of a man she has never met. They are the reason she begs, "Send me flowers. Bring me chocolate. Tell me I'm the most beautiful woman you have ever met, even if that's not true. I need to know that you want me!"
Clay has denied her something she desperately needs, and deserves. And we're supposed to believe one candlelit evening in a grocery store at the end of the movie means he's willing to bend?
No. Because he's not. He's hurting her.
It's weird. I'm struggling to explain it. By doing everything right, more so than necessary, he's doing everything wrong. The movie was slow, boring, but sort of sweet.
Mostly though, it was frustrating. Most of my notes are arguing with the movie's philosophy, not notes on the content.
That shouldn't be the problem with this kind of movie.
Allow me to end with this. John Henry Newman, the great Anglican convert to Catholicism, spends an entire book titled An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (a 445 page "essay") reasoning through how Christianity could get to where it was in his time after what it looked like to begin with. Basically, to put 445 pages in a nutshell (and that's quite daunting task, considering the work at hand), his aim is this: using "tests", he sets out to prove that the Catholic Church is indeed what it is claiming to be, the Church of Acts (and the Gospels, and the bible, and everything else).
But in the end, even as an Anglican, and later as a Catholic, he admits that these tests (read: rules) will only get him so far. And they can't be applied blindly, or you end up with the debacle the Vincentian method lands the Anglicans in (read: a hypocritical mess).
Sometimes, you need a little faith.
Sometimes, you need to send a girl flowers when it's not Valentine's day. Give her chocolate. Tell her she's the most beautiful woman you've ever met.
Because sometimes...sometimes application of rules, tests, and the Vincentian method land you in a more confusing and unfulfilling place than when you started.