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Cinema in Focus: ‘Grace Unplugged’

The journey into mature faith almost always involves a struggle

4 Stars — Inspiring

Brad Silverman's Grace Unplugged presents a multi-layered look at living a life of purpose rather than one of celebrity.

Recognizing that a life of fame and fortune does not satisfy the soul, the film walks with a young music-minister's daughter who has the abilities to be a success in Hollywood. Feeling hampered by her father's control as well as by her Southern Christian subculture, this young musician not only has to face her father-issues but her faith-issues as well.

Partnering with writers Brandon Rice and James Killian, Silverman wrote and directed this engaging and inspiring coming-of-age tale.

Having just turned 18, Grace Trey (AJ Michalka) is the deeply loved daughter of Johnny (James Denton) and Michelle Trey (Shawnee Smith). Having been a commercially successful musician 20 years earlier, Johnny had been morally and physically destroyed by his fame. Finding joy in his faith and a meaningful life in his work as a minister of music, Johnny teaches his only child, Grace, to lead worship with him at their church.

But when her own growth as an artist begins to create an artistic and relational conflict between the two of them, Johnny responds with a harshness that makes Grace rebel against his authoritarian manner. Although Michelle sees the situation clearly, she remains impotently uninvolved in helping the two of them find a future together.

When Frank "Mossy" Mostin (Kevin Pollak) visits to invite Johnny to return to Hollywood, it is Grace who responds and runs away from family and faith to begin her singing career under Mossy's guidance.

Having personally experienced the moral and career decisions that he knows his daughter is unprepared to face, Johnny tries to bring her back home. When she refuses, Johnny is counseled by his pastor (Chris Ellis) to place her in God's hands, trusting that God would care for her by bringing others into her life. This proves to be true in both ways: She is naïve, and God does send Quentin (Michael Welch) and his family to support her in her journey.

For those who do not know the path of faith, that may seem to be a predictable though improbable solution created by the writers, but it is a reality for those of us who walk with God.

The temptation of talent is to allow it to define us. Instead of realizing that talents and abilities are gifts to be used for our own and others' enjoyment and benefit, we lose that joy when we begin to prostitute ourselves to gain fortune and fame or merely to please those who manage and finance our talents. This film shows us that to prevent that from happening, to avoid the pitfalls of celebrity and to keep our integrity, we need to be grounded in our faith with strong support from our family and church.

Discussion:

» What talents have you been given, and what are you doing with them? Have you lost your joy in using your gifts because you compromised them for fame and fortune, or are you using them in a purposeful way that brings joy to yourself and others? Why do you answer as you do?

» The artistic differences between Grace and her father further accentuate the differentiation process every child must go through as they find their own identity different from that of their parents. How did you or are you becoming your own unique person, influenced by but different from your parents?

» Grace's story demonstrates that she can have both her faith and her music. How have you found that your faith journey has allowed you to use your talents and find your purpose in life?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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