Old Fashioned movie review: how would Jesus date?

Old Fashioned red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
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.

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