Grace Unplugged

MPAA Rating: PG

Entertainment: +3

Content: +3

AJ Michalka, James Denton, Michael Welch, Kevin Pollak, Shawnee Smith. Drama. Written & directed by Brad J. Silverman.

FILM SYNOPSIS: This Prodigal Daughter tale concerns the talented 18-year-old child of a former rock star who wants to find her own fame. Grace Trey (AJ Michalka Ė Super 8, The Lovely Bones) is a member of her dadís praise and worship service, but the gifted singer and musician in her own right heeds the call when the secular music world beckons. After the 18-year-old gets the music break of a lifetime and is thrust into the "real world," her faith is quickly put to the test.† Is her upbringing strong enough to overcome the temptations of success?† Is her faith strong enough to discern whatís more important, Godís will or hers?

PREVEW REVIEW: The premise is certainly timely as we see former Disney Channel stars change their image in order to stay relevant in a pop-culture world that demands change over talent. It is the movie Miley Cyrus Should See.

The makers have updated the Prodigal Son parable by changing the leadís gender, with the father needing to learn as many lessons as his wayward child. The story is now set in the music world, allowing actress AJ Michalka, best known for her singing career as half of the duo Aly & AJ, more recently known as 78Violet, to make full use of all her entertainment talents. And itís a film not afraid to mention the name Jesus. Oh, most films do that, but here His name is not uttered as an angry expletive, but rather mentioned as a centerpiece to the spiritual life of several characters. Being a devout Christian herself, Iím sure this is the icing on the cake for Ms. Michalka Ė to be the star of a movie meant to honor God, strengthen the body of Christ, and witness to members of an industry caught up in the Me-ism of celebrity.

For those frustrated that nearly every film seems to glorify mankindís darker nature, not to mention incorporate the unbounded use of profanity and other offensive content, hereís a film where, despite the arena the lead embraces, there are no curse words, no objectionables of any kind. That, and I canít believe I am saying this, may be the filmís main fault.

I felt the filmmakers were successful with showing a battle of wills that is built on the loving relationship between father and daughter. Indeed, that is the pictureís main theme. Most of the characters, especially Kevin Pollak as a music biz manager and Shawnee Smith as a wise and caring mother (a very different role for her), add dimension to the central plotline. And though Ms. Michalka lacks a screen charisma we see in Jennifer Lawrence and ChloŽ Grace Moretz, still she does a credible job. As to her singing, an appreciation of her gift will depend on your acceptance of todayís vocal trends. My colleagues all seemed to enjoy the songs, but for me they sounded too similar, with the same preachy message well ensconced into each songís lyric.

My main problem with the production has to do with the fact that it seems made for church sanctuary showings. Itís a little too clean. The soul-destructive nature of the seeking of fame is only hinted at, with the lusts and soul-corrupting entanglements barely presented. We never really see what tortures her soul, as she seems saved before any real damage is done to her psyche. I still feel a filmmaker should avoid crudity, but itís important to haunt viewers by exposing the music industryís underbelly. Some real cause-and-effect visuals would stick more emotionally with viewers, thereby helping them avoid the same pitfalls in their own chosen field.

Julianne Hough faced the same issues in Footloose, Rock of Ages, and Burlesque. Again, and again, she asked herself if she was willing to sell off her soul in order to acquire fame. But Grace Unplugged successfully adds the religious component, something former church singers like Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus must have faced in real life. Or, perhaps they didnít face it.

I couldnít help but wonder if the recent batch of young starlets would see this film. If so, would they be challenged by it? Or would it take a film with a more poignant punch to affect them?

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright

The following categories contain objective listings of film content which contribute to the subjective numeric Content ratings posted to the left and on the Home page.

Crude Language: None.

Obscene Language: None.

Profanity: None.

Violence: None.

Sex: None.

Nudity: None.

Sexual Dialogue/Gesture: None.

Drugs: Brief teen drinking

Other: None.

Running Time: 118 minutes
Intended Audience: 12 and up

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