Thursday, February 12, 2015

Want an indie alternative to those Grey Shades? Rik Swartzwelder's OLD FASHIONED hits screens

“I don’t believe dating trains us to be good husbands and wives. It trains us to be skilled in the superficial.” So states a certain Clay Walsh, the sweet, stodgy but awfully hunky hero of  OLD FASHIONED, a guy who will neither step into a single woman's abode when she's alone nor allow her into his. Not until they're married, or there-abouts. Well, Clay, I would have to argue that your statement depends on what kind of "dating" one has in mind. Timed intention-ally to open on the same day as that expected-to-be-a-sexual-behemoth Fifty Shades of Grey, this new-fangled, ancient-idea movie -- written and directed by and starring Rik Swartzwelder (shown below) in the role of Clay -- turns out to be a reasonably enjoyable if predictable experience.

Almost from the first frame, the viewer also meets a young lady named Amber (a spunky, smart performance by Elizabeth Roberts, shown below), traveling to a new town with her cat in tow, and just happening to rent an apartment from our Clay. From the outset, it is clear that the movie-maker means these two souls to be destined for each other, but unfortunately it takes nearly two full hours to get them to that destination.

And yet... Getting there provides a certain amount of fun because the journey, as they say, is often as important as the arrival. I should tell you upfront, maybe warn you, that Old Fashioned is one of those Christian faith-based movies that come with increasing frequency from a little studio known as PureFlix. And although you won't find the movie mentioned on the PureFlix web site (even when you do a search for it), you can spot the logo in the credits themselves and on the poster, shown at top.

However, unlike some of the PureFlix films I've encountered, this one does not preach Jesus at you till you're ready to cry uncle. There's only a single scene taking place in a church and little mention of Christian specifics. Further, there is an important-to-the-plot, inter-racial couple (the soon-to-be-hubby of which is played by LeJon Woods, above) shown in the film, and even a nod or two to Judaism, if I'm not mistaken. So this is not your usual white-southern-fundamentalist bullshit. For this alone, plus the charm of its two leading performers, I was ready to give the movie at least a passing grade.

More than that? I'm not so sure. For all his hang-back civility and just-repressed-enough-to-be-very-hot sexuality as a performer, in his writer mode, Mr. Swartzwelder comes up somewhat short. His characters must be pretty much all or nothing examples -- for the good, as demonstrated by our Clay, or for the bad, as his college friend who still possess a frat-boy mentality, played by Tyler Hollinger (above), so crassly embodies.

The movie finally does not even make good on its initial premise that modern dating is superficial. For all the pretty scenery, landscapes, sky, clouds and "non-dates" that involves toasting marshmallows (above) or furniture-making (below), we don't really know -- in anything approaching a deep fashion -- much more about who these people are at the end of the film than we did at the beginning. They both seem superficially "chaste," just as another couple might seem superficially "lewd" because they've chosen to explore their sexuality while dating.

But at least Old Fashioned comes off as relatively non-denominational in its faith-basedness -- the single prayer around the dinner table of Clay's smart aunt (a nice job by Dorothy Silver, below) is a silent one -- and there is actually some suspense produced by our wondering just how long this perfect-for-each-other pair can be kept apart by plot shenanigans such as the sudden return of an old girlfriend or Clay's crisis-of-faith.

There is also some decent humor provided initially by Amber's means of getting Clay to handle his "landlordly" duties and thus be able to at least converse with him. There are also a strained bachelor party scene, a bit of a mystery regarding Clay's checkered past, and even some rather sophisticated inter-cutting of two scenes early on that shows some exploration of film technique.

So if the slick-and-textured look of wealth and bondage promised by Fifty Shades leaves you cold or simply hankering for something a little more cozy and sweet, try a dose of Old Fashioned -- which opens on Valentine's weekend in theaters literally all across the country. Distributed theatrically by Freestyle Releasing, and running 115 minutes, in the L.A. area, it plays the Torrance Rolling Hills 20 and in New York City at the Regal E-Walk. You can check out all the many playdates, with cities and theaters shown, by clicking here and scrolling down, down, down.....

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