Last year, the faith-based film, “October Baby” opened in theaters with little fanfare. The film surprised a lot of people as it did incredibly well for a Christian film and given the unpopular topic of abortion to boot. Why did it do so good? Because it had such a good message? No. Don’t misunderstand, the film did indeed have a good message, but it was so much more than that. It was a good story told by good actors. This year, go see “Grace Unplugged” not because it has a good message, but because it is a good film. Period.
James Denton, from “Desperate Housewives” fame, stars as Johnny Trey, former one-hit-wonder rock star turned worship pastor. His life of alcohol and drugs is long gone. He is happily married to Michelle (Shawnee Smith), he enjoys his job, and even more, he enjoys playing music with his 18-year-old daughter, Grace, ( AJ Michalka). However, lately their relationship is a little strained. The two are having trouble seeing eye to eye on things. Grace longs to have what her father had years ago, to be in the spotlight and enjoy all of the perks that go with it.
Things go from bad to worse when Johnny’s old manager, Mossy (Kevin Pollak) unexpectantly shows up for a visit. Apparently, Johnny’s old song “Misunderstood,” has had a bit of a resurgence and Mossy would kill to get Johnny off the couch and back on the road. Johnny of course is not interested, but Grace is and surprise – she’s as talented as her old man and Mossy is willing to take her on as his new client. As a whole new world opens up for Grace, her life with her parents closes.
“Grace Unplugged” not only shows and tells a realistic story of the battles and love between a father and daughter, but also a realistic portrayal of a broken family. The Trey’s are not a perfect Christian family and the film smartly portrays them as such. There are no “bad guys” here. Just real people. Many will be able to relate to the nice but somewhat spoiled Grace, the over-protective yet loving Johnny and the supportive but frustrated Michelle.
“Grace” is unique, in that it stars people you wouldn’t expect to see in a faith-based movie. Some have been surprised that Denton and Smith (known for her roles in “Saw,” TV’s “Becker” and most recently, “Anger Management”) took on these roles. However, both are believers. Denton’s first job out of college was that of a worship leader and is a musician in his free time in real life, so his part was a natural. Smith will surprise many by her first “mature” role playing a mother. She adds so much depth to the character that could have passed for less.
Michalka, known for her singing with her sister (previously Aly & Aj and now known as 78violet), has a beautiful voice, but she also has some acting chops as well. Unlike other Christian movies, there are a few heated father and daughter moments, and Michalka and Denton play off each other very well. The three have great screen chemistry.
Also starring in “Grace” is Michael Welch (“The Twilight Saga”) as an assistant who has a hard time keeping his eyes on his work and not on Grace. Pia Toscano from “American Idol’s” 10th season, plays the hot young pop singer that Graces aspires to become. The film also features Christian singer Jamie Grace in her first acting role as Grace’s friend from high school and a brief cameo of Chris Tomlin playing himself.
In his first big screen directing and writing role, Brad Silverman doesn’t try to get too “cute” with the scenes and lets the actors do what they do best. That isn’t to say that there aren’t a few “cheesy” parts. There is a very short side story about a young boy musician who is tutored by Grace. He has a performance that she promises will attend, but in the end, she lets him down. The scenes look and feel forced, but don’t really have much to do with the main story and thankfully they don’t take down the picture.
The film is appropriate for the whole family. Some critics has stressed that this is a film for just Christians, but the movie is not just a “Christian” story, but really a story of family dynamics and finding the truth that will set you free. The film could also be mistaken as a musical. It is not, but does feature some great music. The soundtrack is just as good as the movie.