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The Independent Critic

Restin Burk, Kate Randall, Micheal Willbanks, Chuck Kitchens, Paige Easterling
Jarod O'Flaherty
Michelle Dietrich, Melanie Gardner, and Matt Ward
Rated R (Ridiculously so)
110 Mins.

 "My Son" Accidentally Becomes a Controversial Christian Film 
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Cadon (Restin Burk) wasn't going anywhere in life. Then, he met Jess (Kate Randall), a young mom to Austin (Austin Clarke) who seemed to give Cadon's life direction and purpose. When the young couple loses custody of Austin under questionable circumstances, Cadon feels responsible and becomes determined to do everything in his power to get Austin back.

What does a desperate man do when he sees everything he's ever dreamed of slipping away? 

With help from his best friend Bo (Micheal Willbanks), Cadon finds himself in the midst of a plan borne out of his own desperation to get Austin back and to hold on to what little hope he's had for a normal life. 

What does a desperate man do when he sees everything he's ever dreamed of slipping away? 

Whatever it takes. 

My Son is among a rare but growing number of Christian films that firmly plants itself within the gritty side of daily life while never losing sight its sense of hopefulness against even the greatest of tragedies. Produced by Burleson, Texas based Retta Baptist Church, My Son is perhaps most known at this point in its cinematic life as also being that very rare Christian film to receive an "R" rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) supposedly due to its "violence and drug use" and despite the fact that the film contains no graphic violence, no graphic language, no sex/nudity and is unquestionably a film centered deeply within hope and redemption through Jesus Christ. 

If you've been reading The Independent Critic for any length of time, then you're already aware of how little credibility I give to the MPAA. The MPAA is widely known within film circles for serving up wildly inconsistent film ratings and, even more bothersome, an ability to be "influenced" by those with deep enough pockets to do so. 

In short, My Son is NOT an R-rated film and the MPAA's inability to accurately assess the film is merely further evidence of the organization's complete irrelevance as a guide for parents, schools, churches, etc. While My Son certainly does involve mature themes and wouldn't quite fall into the usual faith-based "family friendly" realm, director Jarod O'Flaherty has crafted a film that is both thematically credible yet far from gratuitous in how the film's more gritty material is presented. 

For those who are familiar with the world of indie cinema, My Son is exactly what you would expect - an obviously low-budget film with occasional moments where that low-budget is incredibly obvious and many other moments when the power of the film's story is compelling enough to overcome the film's modest budget. 

While the material is vastly different, My Son frequently reminded of Flywheel, the first feature film from the Kendrick Brothers and Sherwood Pictures. I still remember watching Flywheel and thinking to myself "This is rough, but there's a lot of potential here." 

My Son? This is rough, but there's an awful lot of potential here and a compelling message that will keep fans of deeply involving faith-based cinema watching from the beginning to the end of the 110-minute film. 

There's no question that the primary vision for My Son is presenting an honest story based in very real life and recognizable issues that ultimately shares the hope found in Christ and the availability of redemption through Jesus Christ with every choice we make in life. 

My Son is also a courageous film because co-screenwriters Michelle Dietrich, Melanie Gardner, and Matt Ward have crafted a script that avoids caricatures and painting any of the characters as "all good" or "all bad." There are times in the film when you may find yourself nodding in recognition as the Christians in the film are painted as the self-involved, well-meaning but misguided people that we can all too often be in our daily lives. O'Flaherty doesn't shy away from showing the more challenging sides of congregational life, an approach that adds immensely to the film's authenticity and convictions. 

Likewise, My Son does a beautiful job of humanizing Cadon and Jess, two characters who could have so easily been turned into your usual "wrong side of the tracks" caricatures. There's an opening scene in the film that, as a pastor, absolutely broke my heart as I watched how the simple decisions we make in our congregational lives can so easily have a rippling effect for years. 

While one always expects acting in a low-budget indie to be a tad hit-and-miss, My Son benefits from solid performances from co-leads Restin Burk and Kate Randall. For Christian audiences too often left with paint-by-number bad guys and easily resolved conflicts, My Son serves up two multi-layered characters in the persons of Cadon and Jess and both Burk and Randall do a nice job of avoiding histrionics and creating convincing and surprisingly sympathetic characters even as their situation seemingly spirals downward. 

The film's original music from Connor S. Watkins does a terrific job of setting the atmosphere without dominating the film, while O'Flaherty's editing keeps the film nicely paced throughout its nearly two hour running time. 

My Son was shot in and around Burleson, Texas with a cast and crew largely comprised of locals and a few out-of-state folks who came in for the experience. Executive Producer Chuck Kitchens, who also is Senior Pastor at Retta, has often been a fan of using social media to spread the Gospel and O'Flaherty also has a background in music/informational videos and in documentary filmmaking. 

While My Son tells a unique story within the realm of faith-based cinema, the film also has some similarities to a recent project from Corey Feldman that went straight-to-video called Worth: The Testimony of Johnny St. James, though for my money My Son is far more effective at weaving together the film's "real life" and faith elements in a way that feels naturally developed. 

My Son is not a flawless film, but it is a bold and compelling film from Retta Baptist Church and their ministry of Retta Vision. Fans of Christian cinema need not be deterred by the film's inappropriately administered R-rating, a rating that most likely more reflects the MPAA's own biases and inability to effectively evaluate non-traditional filmmaking. 

Officially released on September 20th, My Son is the kind of film that builds with solid word-of-mouth and screenings continue to be arranged around the country in advance of an eventual home video release. For more information on the film, visit the My Son website linked to in the credits on the left.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic