Intentionally marketed as an alternative to Fifty Shades of Grey, Old-Fashioned is instead its uninspired fundamentalist cousin, a film written, directed by, and co-starring Rik Swartzwelder that is so convicted on being a chaste and biblically inspired take on love and romance that it seems to not realize just how dangerous and potentially abusive this kind of relationship can actually be.
This doesn't mean that I'm advocating for Fifty Shades of Grey, a film that also garnered a D+ grade from The Independent Critic but at least that film had the good sense to not take itself so darn seriously all the time.
Old-Fashioned is dead serious. That's frightening.
I suppose there's something brilliant about Freestyle Releasing's decision to release the film on Valentine's Day weekend as an alternative to the more visually masochistic Fifty Shades of Grey, though it should be obvious to anyone who hasn't drunk the Kool-Aid that there's something eerily self-righteous and misogynistic going on here that makes you wonder if Christian Grey has a long lost fundie brother.
The film centers around, truly centers around, Clay Walsh (Swartzwelder), a former frat boy who has spent most of his adult life atoning for his many sinful ways and who now lives a humble existence out as an antique shop owner and carpenter while openly sharing his beliefs on healthy relationships. Amber (Elizabeth Roberts) is a rather naive young woman who ends up renting an apartment above the antique shop after arriving in town with a cast on her arm from an incident of violence.
Yes, you already know where this is going.
Yes, it gets weirder.
It should be noted that for a film that is advertised as an alternative to Fifty Shades of Grey, Old-Fashioned is itself rated at a PG-13, by no means an extreme rating yet a bit stronger than one usually finds amongst the theatrically released Christian films. That may come courtesy of the revelation that among the many sins of Clay's frat boy days is his experience as an amateur pornographer, a background that leads him to swing the pendulum (pun intended) the other way by vowing that he will never be alone in a room with a woman who is not his wife.
As you can imagine, this dedication is deemed to be pure and righteous in the film yet leads to just a few of Clay's potentially negligent and abusive behaviors that still, unimaginably, leads to Amber's supposedly falling in love with him and agreeing to be his wife. Then, Clay concocts a series of what amounts to be Christian Survivor-like challenges, only slightly exaggerating, designed to test Amber's worthiness as the recipient of his divinely inspired seed.
It's never quite clear why Clay doesn't get any tests, though I'm certain it has something to do with his love and loyalty being beyond reproach.
Clay's world isn't entirely devoid of the ways of the world courtesy of college buddy Brad (Tyler Hollinger), who hasn't really abandoned his collegiate ways and now works as a shock jock while regularly poking holes in Clay's frequently expressed theories yet clearly being portrayed here as the misogynistic one. LeJon Woods is here as the token black friend, I think Toby Mac would call it Diverse City, but his presence really doesn't add much to the goings on.
The chemistry between Clay and Amber is quite suspect, though I suppose one can't accurately assess chemistry given how often the two are spied only sharing a scene on opposite sides of screen doors. I'm guessing that the chemistry is supposed to be annointed by God post-wedding. That said, the chemistry between Swartzwelder and Roberts is nil, a fact that makes buying into Old-Fashioned as anything resembling romantic pretty much impossible. Roberts is a talented actress who was much better in the recent indie production Ragamuffin, though she's given so little to work with here that she ends up looking as bored as we'd imagine Amber would be in this situation.
If you're going to openly market yourself as an alternative to another film, especially a film with as bold a presentation and a surefire box-office success as Fifty Shades of Grey, then it's absolutely essential to carry through on your promise. While Old-Fashioned is certainly devoid of sex and there are no whips and chains to be found, Old-Fashioned's righteous hero is really just a more chaste yet no less offensive man whose skewed sentimentality and narcissistic relationship views mask a guy who is quite likely to put a cast on Amber's other arm and call it divinely inspired love when she deviates from his precious plan for their relationship.
At least with Fifty Shades of Grey, you know what you're going to get. Heck, there's that pesky contract if nothing else. In Old-Fashioned, there's that constant feeling that love is patient and love is kind. Or else.
Believe it or not, I wanted to like Old-Fashioned. I wanted to believe that Rik Swartzwelder had truly crafted a film that would exemplify old-fashioned romance and pure love. Unfortunately, Old-Fashioned is not that film. Awkwardly written with paper-thin caricatures serving as characters and amateurish production values, Old-Fashioned is ultimately as masochistic a film as Fifty Shades of Grey and by the end of it you'll feel pretty whipped too.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic