Few will argue the claim that the bar for “faith-based” films has been set woefully low in recent years. So much so that even non-Christian, non-religious Americans have heard about (and likely snickered at) projects such as Fireproof and the Left Behind series.
Then there was the recent hullabaloo surrounding Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. Christian commentators have spent the past few weeks engaged in a frame-by-frame lambasting of Paramount Pictures’ re-telling of the great flood story. Little was achieved amidst the rhetorical onslaught, apart from the chance for folks with theology degrees to finally seem cool.
And now, as we approach Easter and the summer movie season behind it, what’s a God-fearing American moviegoer to do?
Well, first – don’t make all decisions on whether or not you should go see a movie based solely on the stamp of approval from your favorite religious publication or website. Trust, but verify.
And second – go see Heaven is for Real.
That’s right. I said it. I enjoyed this movie. My wife and I were invited to a pre-screening of Heaven is for Real on the Sony Pictures lot here in the Los Angeles area and I will admit that, initially, I was hesitant to go. It gave off very strong “Kirk Cameron may appear on screen and spoil everything” vibes, but those vibes were unwarranted.
My Acculturated colleague, Mark Tapson, recently posted some thoughts on the story of Heaven is For Real, and I recommend you check that out for more information on the general plot.
What I want to say about the film that I saw is this: for those of us who care about infusing Hollywood with better stories, with stories told in a technically respectable manner, and with stories that espouse our traditional values, we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Heaven is for Real boasts talented, award-winning contributors at every level of the project. Director Randall Wallace wrote Braveheart and has manned the helm on films like We Were Soldiers and Secretariat. Greg Kinnear, who stars as Pastor Todd Burpo, is an Oscar-nominated actor and one of the finest in the business. The script is an engaging, genuine portrayal of a pastor and his family wrestling with the trials and triumphs that all families face, but especially those trials and triumphs unique to those who serve in full-time ministry. The scenes that attempt to deal with the supernatural things that Todd Burpo’s young son claimed to see and experience are not cheesy or campy.
For those who have seen some of the cringe-worthy faith-based films I alluded to earlier, it will make sense when I say that Heaven is For Real is a breath of fresh air because it feels like a real movie – not just some underqualified Christian’s idea of what a movie is supposed to look and feel like. I kept waiting for the movie to tank, for my eyes to roll, and for my smart phone to make an appearance so that I could poke fun at the flick on Twitter. But it never came. There wasn’t a false beat throughout.
Please don’t get me wrong – this wasn’t No Country For Old Men or Argo. No golden statues are going home with the creators of Heaven is For Real. And keep in mind that I’m the guy who only a few weeks back wrote a post about how people of faith need to start making grittier films that candidly address the world as it is (and ruffle some Christians’ feathers).
But this movie is a step in the right direction. It’s something that warrants you spending a few shekels to go out and see (and support) it. You can vote at the ballot box, but you can also vote with your dollar – with what you choose to click on while perusing iTunes, Netflix or Amazon Prime. In my opinion, a film like Heaven is For Real has the potential to open up all sorts of doors for both those already in the studio system trying to get faith-based content through, and also for those on the outside looking in who will begin to see those calls from major studio execs returned when they know there is money to be made in this specific market.
Ultimately, the goal is not simply to have a little enclave of faith-based content being produced by people who may or may not despise the messages contained within. The goal – a goal – should be to build upon the momentum of successful projects as more and more folks who share our values establish themselves as credible alternatives and choices in a town and industry largely inhospitable to the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Go see Heaven is For Real when it comes out on Easter weekend. It’s family-friendly and thought provoking. As is the case in the Moeller household each year when It’s A Wonderful Life is re-aired around Christmas time, do remember to bring a few tissues.