Overall, I really liked Old Fashioned. I would rate it a 9 out of 10 for modest-budget films. Compared to Hollywood giants (which is hardly a fair comparison), I’d say it still holds its own at about a 5 or 6 out of 10.
The first 20 minutes (and occasional moments throughout) are certainly best likened to a Hallmark original movie, but for the most part I was very impressed with the professionalism of this modestly-budgeted film. If you can get past the initial clichéd beginning, you’re set for a very loving, sacrificial, and morally sound look at authentic romantic relationships.
Amber’s relationship with Clay is definitely counter-cultural—focused far more on their friendship and compatibility than on the physical elements of romantic love—thus beckoning modern viewers out of their sex-saturated comfort zone. (An irony whose existence is both terrifying and the reason this film is independently produced.) But if the viewer can come to terms with the reality of the film’s budget (and forgive the occasionally cheesy performances), I firmly believe that many people will be enchanted by this refreshingly person-focused journey of authentic love.
Plot Development and Story Line
Admittedly, the Hallmark beginning was a bit of a turn-off. Once I got past the fairy-tale beginning and some of the seemingly forced scenes (Why did David need to ask Clay for his vision of an ideal honeymoon? It was handy later on, but the circumstances in which it came about weren’t quite believable), Old Fashioned was a joy to watch.
Partway through the film, I became concerned that the writers were going to give in to some of the extremely obvious plot developments they had set up—and I was pleasantly surprised when they did not. In fact, many concerns I had during the film were put to rest: Amber and Clay’s respective motivations seemed extreme and unnecessary…until the plot revealed the motivations behind them; some of the caricatures of the supporting characters almost seemed too one-dimensional…but most were fleshed out after the motivations of more important characters had their time in the spotlight, etcetera, etcetera.
The plot did, however, seem to get away from the writers for a few moments as their 1.5-hour movie stretched into nearly two hours. It could be argued that the slow progression of Clay and Amber’s relationship is an important nod at reality. As moviegoers, we often get swept up in the romantic idea that true love happens in a whirlwind of fast-paced dates, intimate moments, and—BAM!—it’s happily ever after. Reality, however, is much more…real. That is, the love we experience will be nitty, gritty, and probably not a box-office hit. (On second thought, thank God for that.)
When the credits began to roll, I walked away from the film very satisfied and filled with hope. I had spent my Valentine’s day watching a quality movie that stretched my heart, mind, and soul to strive for a love God created me to experience—much more than I can say after viewing most movies with slightly more action and household-name actors.
As I watched the movie, I repeatedly found myself noting the surprisingly high-quality cinematography. I went in knowing that the film was low-budget, but the visuals do nothing to indicate such financial lacking. The cameras often toyed with the focus, creating a pleasant nostalgic feel—simultaneously bright and soft—an effect that was well done and helped to blur old elements into more modern ones.
For all the budget-hiding qualities of the filming and editing, there was one particularly annoying choice that stuck out: Old Fashioned implemented the use of far too many fading montages. There’s probably some artistic reason for their decision, but I found myself dizzied from the frequency of layered semi-transparent images moving on top of each other. The use of simultaneous, partially-faded clips can be a nice accent occasionally, but Old Fashioned certainly overkilled on that front.
The music was nothing special, but certainly appropriate. The fact that it didn’t stick out means that at the very least it wasn’t awful, and at best it melded into the movie very well. Not much to say here.
For the most part, the underpaid actors in this modest film performed themselves with surprising quality and believability. I daresay that the acting was not only decent but even very good.
Elizabeth Ann Roberts starred as Amber—perhaps the best actress in the film besides Dorothy Silver. She took lines that could have been difficult to deliver convincingly and spun them with just the right amount of fun-loving sass and attitude. The overall effect came off well: charming and sweet.
As Clay, Rik Swartzwelder did a good job overall—but there were certainly some weak performances throughout the film. Some could certainly be a deficit on his end (many of his statements about Clay’s “theories” came off forced), but others seemed weak because some of his lines are just hard to say in real life. (“Who talks that way?” “I do.” Good attempt, but that line is way more cheesy than confident.) Of course, poor screenwriting is natural problem that pops up frequently in the low-budget world, and even occasionally in high-profile films. I must say, however, that for being a film of its anticipated caliber, Old Fashioned did an abnormally good job of smoothing out such issues.
The comical and classy Dorothy Silver played Aunt Zella, and she nailed it. She delivered the best acting in the movie, the most solid comic relief in the movie, and the most relatable character in the movie. I’ve officially adopted Zella as my spirit animal–or, at least the spirit animal I wish I was cool enough to have. Through Silver, the character provided just the right amount of reason, balance and spiritual integration. She was devout, yet not scrupulous like Clay, whilst fun-loving, but not indifferent like Amber. She’s the product of a lifelong search for authentic Truth and balance. (There’s a reason elders are historically the possessors of wisdom! In fact, they still are—we’ve just convinced ourselves to ignore them.) Thank you, Silver and screenwriters, for Zella.
David, one of Clay’s two best friends, was portrayed by LeJohn Woods. Overall, Wood’s performance was fine. Some of his motivations seemed a bit forced and awkward at times (again, that silly honeymoon question), but that was probably more a product of amateur screenwriting than Woods’ acting.
Clay’s other best friend, Brad, is more widely known in Old Fashioned as “Lucky Chucky.” Tyler Hollinger, the actor, did a decent job at the beginning of the film. In fact, he seemed like the most relatable character. By the end, however, it seemed like Brad’s immorality was a little forced. (Do they really talk like that on daytime radio? Or any radio?) The combined effect of the written character and the somewhat uncomfortable acting did succeed in making me dislike Brad, which was probably the objective in the first place.
Nini Hadjis played Lisa, David’s live-in girlfriend and mother of their daughter, Cosie. I wasn’t terribly impressed with her performance, but I also wasn’t terribly put off, either. Not much to say here.
Maryanne Nagel did a good job of portraying Carol, Amber’s jaded but motherly boss at the flower shop. Her role must have been a tightrope act to manage as she had to carefully and lovingly represent many people who have tried unsuccessfully to navigate the chaotic waters of married life, often with multiple partners. The actress succeeded in playing her character well, without making her out to be a role model. That can be difficult to do appropriately.
Lindsay Heath is Trisha, Amber’s flower shop coworker. This is an interesting character and one whom I approach from a somewhat unique position relative to many of the typical viewers of Old Fashioned. I attended a Catholic liberal arts university and, on some level, the depiction of Trisha is a very accurate summary of what general liberal feminist “group” is like—at least, as accurate as it could be in a 2-hour movie that doesn’t have time for a minor supporting character to go on an identity-seeking saga of a subplot. While I can attest that Trisha does represent typical Internet 20-something reactions to a movie like this one, I can also attest that many of the people represented by Trisha can only be grouped by their reaction to Clay’s theories and their collegiate lifestyle. What’s nice about the depiction of Trish is that it isn’t wholly negative. She’s depicted as misguided, but good at heart. From the perspective of the protagonists in this film, that is an absolutely correct assessment—Trish’s ethical code might not be quite up to par, but she really is just seeking love.
Finally, perhaps at the most minor of minor characters, Joseph Bonamico plays George, the furniture drop-off guy. As one of the weaker actors, it was probably best that he was a minor character. He was funny when in his game, but George could have been much stronger. However, Bonamico definitely played a loveable (if often inappropriate and borderline creepy) guy!
Devil’s Advocate: Sidenote
An argument could be made that when it comes to the depiction of any character who isn’t Clay or Aunt Zella, the writers could have done a better job of playing fairly. Perhaps most precisely, when it comes to Brad, America’s favorite inappropriate radio host, Old Fashioned‘s “flipped script” wasn’t exactly kind. There are two things I have to say about that:
- Popular depictions of practicing Christians aren’t positive, while the popular depictions of the irreligious overwhelmingly are. It’s not that making the Christian the protagonist and the irreligious the irreligious the antagonist is necessarily the high road in this situation, but it’s CERTAINLY a reasonable reaction. (And frankly refreshing for those of us who are used to the unfortunate opposite.)
- I may be wrong, but it seems like the main objective was to build a contrast to highlight just how degrading and corrupt popular culture can be today, and to communicate that in such a way that even blasé ears can hear it.
Overall, I really enjoyed Old Fashioned. As someone who hardly re-watches movies, I’d go so far as to purchase it. The morality was spot on, the character’s development was solid, the plot was reasonable, and the cinematography was beautiful. Even the cheesiness added a little something to Old Fashioned’s charm. When it found the need to establish itself as an independently filmed David against Hollywood blockbuster Goliaths, the movie acknowledged its automatic reputation as a stereotypically “bad Christian movie” and it made reasonable efforts to change that.
Not only was Old Fashioned successful in standing its ground in the film industry as the voice of millions of people fed up with our culture of recreational dating, but it is a light to its viewers as a reminder that authentic love is always possible. These are the things with which I want to fill my mind and heart.