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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Old Fashioned movie review: how would Jesus date?

Old Fashioned red light

Old-fashioned is right. Like how the Taliban is old-fashioned. Behold some pretty despicable passive-aggressive othering of women in the name of “respect.”
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): not a fan of “faith-based” movies

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

So, this is the film being offered up as the Christian alternative to Fifty Shades of Grey. Which turns out to be rather appropriate, for the “hero” of Old Fashioned is his own sort of controlling, demanding, and precisely, meticulously detailed about how women may and may not interact with him. He’s got a lot of rules that must be followed. It’s just that here, those rules come from Jesus in some nebulous, undefined way.

Clay (Rik Swartzwelder) “made a promise to never be alone with any women that’s not my wife,” he tells Amber (Elizabeth Ann Roberts), by way of explaining why he cannot enter the apartment he’s showing off to her in the hopes that she will rent it. She should have run away right then: Is he not an adult capable of restraining himself in the presence of a woman? A gal might want to consider being very afraid of a man who doesn’t trust himself to be alone with her even in a strictly neutral business scenario. But she moves in anyway, and later finds herself standing outside in the cold while he does some handyman repairs. Because that’s the sort of gentleman he is: one unable to be in the same room as a woman, even if that means kicking her out of her own home, lest he, I dunno, be driven into an uncontrollable sexual frenzy?

Old-fashioned is right. Like how the Taliban and the Saudis are old-fashioned. Clay mistakes his behavior for “respect” for women, but it’s a pretty despicable display of passive-aggressive othering.

Clay is most definitely whom we’re supposed to see as the Good Guy, however, because we have his pal Brad (Tyler Hollinger) for comparison. Brad is an asshole who calls women “stupid” (on his nationally syndicated radio show, no less), which he knows because women believe the lies he tells them to get them to sleep with him. It’s almost as if the film is setting up a ridiculous dichotomy in which the only two options for a man when it comes to dealing with women are treating them like dirt or treating them like whatever Clay thinks he’s doing. I say “almost” because there’s another pal, David (LeJon Woods), who is in a long-term relationship with a woman he clearly loves and is committed to, but this evidence of a middle ground doesn’t seem to have any impact whatsoever on Clay.

In a more nuanced version of this story, Clay would lighten up a little and find a compromise between two jerk-ish extremes, particularly when he realizes that he maybe like-likes Amber, and she him. But no. It’s Clay’s way or no way, so it’s Amber who has to bend to his will. Clay is explicit about this: “My rules, my way.” This sounds like something Christian “50 Shades of” Grey would say. It’s no better just because Clay’s rules are about excluding all physical contact beyond a kiss on the cheek before marriage. Clay is simply a control freak about different things.

What on Earth Amber sees in Clay is a mystery. Swartzwelder also wrote, directed, and produced the film, and he should have stayed behind the camera. His movie does look rather nice, in a Hallmark greeting card sort of way, but as a leading man, he’s about as appealing as a mushy loaf of white bread. There’s absolutely no chemistry between him and Roberts, and there’s no playfulness or, dare I say it, romance — not even of the chaste kind — to be found here.

Amber does has some wise words for Clay about being a grownup, and the film does acknowledge that people (such as David) can be happy even if they’re not doing romance like Clay insists on doing it. But Clay persists in his reductive, hidebound approach to love, and he is rewarded for it. Ultimately, Old Fashioned contends that regardless of what a woman might want out of a relationship — and this applies to David and his partner as well as to Clay and Amber — it’s up to a man to decide what she is going to get. Love and relationships aren’t a meeting of and compromise between equals, but a matter of male authority over women, for women’s own good. There are words for that, but none of them is respect.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Old Fashioned for its representation of girls and women.

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Old Fashioned (2015)
US/Can release: Feb 13 2015

MPAA: rated PG-13 for some thematic material

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • bronxbee

    jesus — if he actually existed in the world it is claimed he lived in — would have been married off by the time he was 16 or 18 to a young woman of perhaps 14 or 16 years of age. oneof the basic tenents of judaism being “be fruitful and multiply”… he probably would have been hedged around with all sorts of courting and marriage rules, but i doubt if they would have been the ones clay insists on.

  • RogerBW

    Well, I’ve been saying for years that a film ought to have the message to women “don’t hook up with a bad boy in order to change him, because people only very rarely change in major ways” – but somehow I don’t suppose that’s the intended message here either.

  • LaSargenta

    There’s so many logical problems with this “rule” of not ever being alone with a woman to whom he’s not married. I mean, as far as I understand it, all sects of the Hassidim have very strict rules about contact and interaction with women. However, I — a most definitely not-Orthodox Jewish woman — have shopped in small stores or had conversations on the street or business discussions in offices with males of the various sects. There were times we were ‘unchaperoned’.

    It seems like this could be crippling.

  • Constable

    This is a bit off point but:

    The soundtrack album cover looks kind of silly. I can’t help but picture them as zombies playing tug-of-war with disembodied vital organs.

  • stardreamer42

    So… would it be reasonable to say that this is 50 Shades with all the domination but none of the sex, and some sort of pseudo-Christian overgloss?

  • Danielm80

    Yes, and Once is Titanic without the boat or the special effects budget.

    I’m not really kidding. They’re the same movie. Each of them is a story about doomed love with lots of Irish step-dancing, along with an ending that makes no practical sense but is deeply romantic.

  • freddyc

    I saw this movie. By the end of the movie, I don’t think Clay is as rigid as you make him out to be. He softens quite a bit on his “rules” which is the whole point of the movie: forgiving yourself for your past rather than making up rules so you never screw up again. That’s why his elderly aunt says “Stop using the Grace of God like a brick wall.” The movie is a bit boring and they definitely set up a “straw man” in Clay’s shock jock friend. But, it’s more about Clay understanding grace and forgiveness than it is about him being unrealistically rigid.

  • The poster looks like that, too. It’s a terrible design.

  • It doesn’t even rise to that level.

  • He still refuses to kiss the woman he loves because they’re not married.

    Yeah, it’s all about Clay very nobly forgiving himself. I guess.

  • Hank Graham

    If you’re discussing “Titanic,” it would have to be *SINK* to that level, surely. :)

  • Hank Graham

    Why is all the discussion of this movie (and, for that matter, the discussions revolving around “Fifty Shades”) reminding me of the great leave-taking scene in “Cold Comfort Farm,” where Rufus Sewell, to the strains of the soundtrack to “Gone With the Wind,” no less, takes a painful farewell from–his cow?

    Best comment on Hollywood romance *EVER*.

    And it’s surprising how many modern rom-coms can be improved by imagining the hero of the movie doing exactly what you see them doing on the screen, but doing it opposite a cow. Just sayin’.

    Particularly the ones with Matthew McConaughey.

  • Bluejay

    It’s just that here, those rules come from Jesus in some nebulous, undefined way.

    He thinks the guy who was totally cool with a prostitute washing his feet with oil at a dinner party is telling him he can’t be in the same room with a woman who’s not his wife? Whatevs.

  • Nope. *Titanic* is an absolutely brilliant film in many respects.

  • Jurgan

    Eh, not necessarily. A lot of young rabbis put off marriage until later in life.

  • Jurgan

    I don’t think Hank was commenting on the quality of Titanic; I’m pretty sure that was just a pun.

  • bronxbee

    the rabbinic system as it exists today, certainly did not exist in the time jesus supposedly existed.

  • Tom Raven

    I saw it and I loved every bit of it.

  • a

    Why’d you even bother giving this crap an in-depth review? It’s not like any other film stands a chance against Fifty Shades (which if you haven’t already seen, Dakota Johnson is SO GOOD she’ll probably make it palatable) the Valentines Day…

  • Worse, the consequences of this choice often fall on *women*. I read an essay by a similar type of guy, one who would not take a ride from a woman employed by a company with whom he was doing business, and an analysis that pointed out that if enough men adopted this “moral” code, it could easily become another glass ceiling. Much like the issue of women sports reporters in the locker room, rather than being seen as a reason that men need to grow the fuck up, it becomes another reason why women should stop insisting on bringing their vaginas into the workplace.

  • What did you love about it?

  • Because reviewing movies is what professional critics do.

  • Geoffrey

    I’m not surprised that any form of entertainment that promotes good values would come under such harsh criticism but honestly people, try to have a clue about what you criticize. First, nobody is saying or even insinuating that Jesus said a man can’t be in the same room with a woman that isn’t his wife. These rules are simply guidelines that Clay has put on himself because he understands what most people do not, the impurity of his own heart. After living years enslaved to pornography and other destructive habits he is seeking to keep himself out of situations that could result in temptation or lead him in to a relationship for the wrong reasons. If you have actually read your bible, you might find that Jesus did say “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” It logically follows that, if being in the same room with a woman could lead you to sin, don’t do it. This philosophy could have prevented millions of affairs, divorces, heartaches, rapes, regrets, and dysfunctional relationships. In view of that light, it doesn’t seem like that much of a sacrifice or inconvenience. The goal here isn’t just to keep him from having sex with a woman. The goal is to keep all of his thoughts and actions pure. I hope every man that interacts with my wife and my daughter will have such high standards.

  • RogerBW

    If I were so uncontrolled that simply being in the same room as a woman could drive me to seduce or rape her, I would be unfit to live in civilisation. Do you really think that most people are that ill?

  • In view of that light, it doesn’t seem like that much of a sacrifice or inconvenience.

    Except it inconveniences other people. Making a woman stand out in the cold because fixing the trash disposal might induce Clay to sin? Not cool, not charming, and not “good values.”

  • Geoffrey

    I don’t think the goal was to be charming, and as far as inconveniencing others let’s keep in mind that this is a fictional movie. In real life I’m pretty sure it could be worked out that he would fix her disposal while she was out of the apartment for some other reason. As it is in the movie, the point seems to be that she is out of the room, it is her choice to wait outside the door in the cold. As far as good values, yes it is an extremely good value. I’ve seen many lives shattered by being put into situations where there was either too much opportunity for temptation, or too much fodder for the rumor mill. As a result, I hold to a similar rule as Clay does. It has never inconvenienced anyone else but has sure served me very well and prevented a lot of trouble. Was every situation that I avoided going to cause a problem, no but if I avoided one mistake or one rumor about some indiscretion it was worth all the others.

  • RogerBW

    How selflessly you allow women to become second-class citizens! (Because if people like you won’t get into a taxi driven by a woman, the taxi company that wants your business won’t employ female drivers.) How I’m sure women everywhere thank you for being treated as nothing more than walking temptation!
    I’m guessing you’re probably teetotal, because the temptation of getting drunk would probably be too much to resist. But millions of people all over the world are neither teetotal nor alcoholic. And similarly, the vast majority of men are neither refusing to be alone with a woman nor philanderers and rapists.
    It’s called growing up and having some backbone. You should try it one day.

  • muzjik

    Maybe if you are not a fan of “faith-based” films, you should have recused yourself from writing a review…just as one who hated the military probably should not review “American Sniper”.

    “He’s got a lot of rules that must be followed”….no, he has rules he has made for himself based on a past of exploiting women. It’s called “exhibiting self-control”. It’s usually considered an admirable thing.
    They were NOT rules he required anyone else to follow.

    The person with the control issues was Amber’s former boyfriend, remember? Or were you taking an extending bathroom/refill popcorn break?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Interesting. So, the parts of Clay’s behavior you find admirable: important and relevant to everybody.
    The parts of his behavior others rightly point out to be pretty shitty: completely fictitious and someone else’s fault anyway.

    How convenient.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    That’s not self-control, that’s avoidance behavior. As in “Avoiding his problems, rather than confronting them like an adult.”

    And no, she shouldn’t recuse herself. I’m sure she, like me, is hoping some day to see a “faith-based” movie that isn’t awful on several levels, not all of them moral or theological (where this one appears to fall down).

  • muzjik

    Did you see the movie, Dr. Rocketscience? Or are you basing “it’s awful on several levels” on this review?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Several, actually. All people I trust, some religious, some not, all saying pretty much the same thing: This Clay dude is an asshole.

  • Dan, a man who serves the King

    Great movie. Right and therefore righteous relationships are beyond the grasp of those of you so enslaved by your lusts that you label the self-control of others as a vice, because you’re so starved for love that you mistake the garbage pail from which you feed your hearts as a feast. This movie gets it. Y’all who besmirch it don’t. Good luck with that.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Huh, I’ve managed never to get all rapey in the solitary presence of a woman who was not my wife. So, who are you talking about, exactly?

    Meanwhile, the Clay character doesn’t have self-control. He’s not interested in self-control. That’s the whole problem here. He doesn’t stay out of the presence of women. He makes women stay out of his presence.

  • 90-plus percent of moviegoers loved it, according to Rotten Tomatoes and others. I, too, have seen Old-Fashioned — and also loved it. It’s fun, gripping, compelling and different from anything Hollywood has ever released. In other words, it’s TRUE romance. That alone is enough to give it a try. For a different take, check out my review: “Skip ‘Fifty Shades’ and watch ‘Old Fashioned.'” Read it here: http://michaelfoust.com/2015/02/13/skip-fifty-shades-and-watch-old-fashioned/

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    C’mon, Mr. Foust. You know this movie is a limited release, and a niche film. So an honest of that stat would be that 90+% of people predisposed to seek out and see this kind of film enjoyed it. Which is nice and all, but hardly reason enough for a general audience to see it. And this site is targeted to a general filmgoing audience.

  • RogerBW

    Maybe one day someone will make a religiously-inspired film that’s actually good enough to be popular with a mainstream audience. I don’t think it’s impossible. But I don’t think this is that day either.

  • You clearly have a different definition of “self-control” than the rest of us.

  • Or were you taking an extending bathroom/refill popcorn break?

    I *never* do that. I never step out of a film. I wouldn’t review it if I did. Which I wouldn’t.

    The person with the control issues was Amber’s former boyfriend, remember?

    Yes, I do. There is more than one man with control issues in this movie. Amber seems to keep falling for them.

  • Don’t be a spammer. Would Jesus be a spammer?

  • LaSargenta

    “Religiously-inspired” is a pretty broad category. I mean, It’s a Wonderful Life could fall into that, or Babette’s Feast, or Chariots of Fire or The Mission. Certainly The Gospel of St. Matthew by Pasolini doea and that was pretty damn good.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I thought “Noah” did pretty OK.

    I also hear “The Matrix” was pretty popular.

  • RogerBW

    Fair points.

  • averagejoe

    The actress playing Amber was actually very good. A bit slow in parts, and Clay’s position was weird, but I thought the movie showed it as weird and too far on the other extreme from casual hookups. With decent acting, and tolerable production value, my main criteria was whether I started rooting for the characters and wanted to see them end up together – which I did. Not too preachy, and would have liked Clay to gain a little more perspective than he did, but well done. I did wonder how he dealt with women coming into his business alone (no one, not even Amber, ever did). I didn’t see any Taliban here, just a bit counter-culture on love being all about sex. Maybe offensive to those protective of complete equality between the sexes, but even on that score, women often do have to be more careful than men in relationships, and to try love with a Clay just might pay off compared to the alternative.

  • susan

    Try researching FIREPROOF. That film is the reason why several major Hollywood studios decided to open up a faith-based production department in their studios because it made MILLIONS on a tiny budget because people are tired of seeing FILTH at the theater

  • A.T.P.

    Yeah, the message here is to hook up with a slightly different kind of bad boy. Not the sexy kind–which at least is some sort of a redeeming value–but the religious fanatic kind.

  • RogerBW

    It’s made in its lifetime less than half of Fifty Shades of Grey‘s opening weekend.

  • Treating women as temptresses whose very existence is an irresistible compulsion to sin for a man is precisely what is behind drives to refuse women the right to leave their homes without male accompaniment, to cover up from head to toe, to drive a car. It’s all the same irrational fear of women and, just as bad, the same irrational belief that men are animals motivated only by the basest of instincts. No thank you.

  • Lori

    This was my first visit to this site, and after reading your review and comments, I will not be visiting here again. However, it is clear that you went into the movie with a biased mindset. Yes, I know that you have an entire “minifesto” about that. Unfortunately, you allowed your bias to cause you to overlook parts of the movie. For example, it is Amber who keeps “breaking” things so that Clay will have to come in and she will have to step out. Also, it is clear through Clay’s backstory that he doesn’t view women as temptresses that compel him to sin. He fears due to his past actions that he won’t treat women with the respect they deserve. It’s like he is perpetually punishing himself for his past transgressions. Later in the movie, he begins to move past that incorrect belief. I went in with an open mind, and was therefore able to see that Clay and Amber both begin healing from their past experiences and learn to deal with their relationship in a healthier way. I came away with the most positive and hopeful feeling after watching a movie that I’ve had in a long time.

  • DD

    I saw this movie and loved it. I was particularly struck by the fact that it indeed shows his struggle to deal with his past and make better decisions, and also the struggle to move past his mistakes and accept God’s grace. It seems to me that Amber is doing more of the chasing and when Clay decides he is interested, he is honest with her about his dating parameters. It is not that he chases her and then demands she obey his rules. For you to compare this movie to the Taliban is pretty despicable, in my opinion. Those of us who have lost friends or lived ones to such evil have no sympathy for such ignorant comparisons.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    This was my first visit to this site, and after reading your review and comments, I will not be visiting here again.

    Stopped reading there, then. Thanks for coming by, for whatever reason you did that for.

  • RogerBW

    I’m noticing a pattern among people who claimed to have enjoyed this: they were all of a very specific mindset, which has been reinforced by the film. It doesn’t seem to be converting anybody into the burqasphere, just stroking the people who are already there.

  • t is clear that you went into the movie with a biased mindset.

    Fantastic! Then my secret plan to let everyone know my specific biases at the top of each review is working.

    Amber who keeps “breaking” things so that Clay will have to come in and she will have to step out.

    Yeah, just because she encourages his bizarre medieval behavior doesn’t make it any less problematic. Ana in *Fifty Shades of Grey* keeps returning to an abusive man. Does that make it okay to depict this crap as romantic?

    He fears due to his past actions that he won’t treat women with the respect they deserve.

    Then that is *his* problem, and not one he can make women pay the price for.

  • Christian Grey is also honest about his parameters.

    An honest creep is still a creep. He’s just telling you to run away up front. And these women refuse to heed him!

  • Rod Ribeiro

    >It’s like he is perpetually punishing himself for his past transgressions.

    It’s more like he’s perpetually punishing others for his past transgressions. Maybe he should avoid the women he had wronged. Or maybe the specific situations (don’t go to bars or nightclubs). Or grow a backbone.

  • John

    Old Fashioned is a great movie.

  • Dr. Rocketscience



  • LaSargenta

    Every time a comment gets posted to this thread and I see its name on Join the Conversation, all that runs through my mind is “what a waste of good bourbon”.

    I obviously wouldn’t be considered a Good Christian by this target audience.

  • John has spoken!


    How about telling us *why* it’s so great?

  • jared

    An interesting line I read about this film: “The love story here isn’t between Amber and Clay, it’s between Clay and his beliefs.” He might change slightly, but it’s not in relation to the woman. The male, on his own, struggles to find what is “right” and then brings it to the woman for implementation.

  • Is that supposed to be a good thing, a bad thing, or something in the middle? Did the person who wrote this consider it a positive thing, or what?

  • jared

    I believe they were viewing it at an example of patriarchy; the true struggle is the male trying to find out what is right on his own w/o any concern to what the female’s opinion, feelings, beliefs, etc. are… when he decides on his own what is right, then he can inform the woman and she must obey.

    Personally, I can see this viewpoint. I look at it more from a story perspective and view it just as poor storytelling. This is billed as a romantic film, but there is no real change that happens in the protagonist (Clay) because of the romantic relationship (I mean, maybe some very very minimal things, which, in filmmaking = boring!). The real change that happens in Clay is that he decides to enter into a relationship (but not change his beliefs) because he felt the fear that he didn’t want to lose Amber and because granny gave him a good talking to; not because the woman in the relationship (remember, this is a romance… the change should come from there!) changed him in any way. He just changed his mind that he wanted to be in a relationship but never went though any kind of personal change.

    I believe the problems that writer and myself saw both stem from the same source: a lack of respect for the woman’s feelings.

  • jared

    And when it’s described like that, it basically agrees with what you’ve said.

  • It sure does. :-)

  • By “self-control,” you mean, “complete lack of self-control,” right? Someone with self-control doesn’t need to impose silly restrictions to maintain it. They just, you know, DON’T DO what they’re not supposed to do.

  • This is exactly what is so insidious about this practice: because we live in a society of male privilege, men like Clay have the ability to require that the world (or more precisely, women) alter itself to fulfill HIS needs. And as several people have pointed out, companies are entirely likely to avoid hiring women to avoid making men uncomfortable.

  • Are you denying that the main character avoids temptation by making it stand over *there* instead of by learning to get a grip (npi) on his own impulses? Are you arguing that he *doesn’t* refuse to be alone in a room with a woman?

  • TDW

    Actually, not accurate. In the end scene when he proposes, he is leaning in towards kissing her (in a nod to the change of attitude he has come to) and AMBER is the one that turns her head away so that he kisses her on the cheek. It’s a subtle showing of the understanding each has to come regarding the other. Additionally, there is no control by Clay; he merely states the conditions on which he is willing to date – don’t we all have conditions? Amber has the right (unlike in the 50 shades scenario) to either date him or not which leaves the choice 100% up to her. However with all that being said, your bias against religion and Christianity is clear in your review and as such, I wouldn’t expect you to have any appreciation for this film – and clearly were determined to read his actions in the most negative way possible. The audience reviews have been consistent (90%+ positive on all sites!) and see it for what it is meant to be; a story of love, forgiveness, grace, faith, temptation (etc) and for those people who are looking for that kind of love story – you can bet they found Clay to be sexy, fun, playful, and romantic…when we left the theater, every woman was crying and swooning over the idea that romance can be respectful and self-control can be sexy as heck!

  • muzjik

    Yes, I am.
    Do you not understand the meaning of “penance”?

  • I’m Catholic. I know aaaallll about penance. Maybe you can explain to me what the main character does if it’s not what I described.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Sure. It’s an act of self-inflicted punishment, in order to atone for wrongs inflicted on others.

    If Clay, believing he that he struggles behaving appropriately when alone with a woman, had put on (and kept on) his big boy pants, despite the struggle, that might constitute an act of penance. This is more akin to an alcoholic going into a restaurant and telling the manager that they have to stop serving booze while he’s there.

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