Overcomer [2019] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

A random small town is apparently falling apart due to the local factory closing down, and this decimates a Christian private school’s basketball team and sends the coach spiraling. When he already doesn’t even know what he’s going to do about a team, his superior, the principal, forces him to coach a one-girl cross-country team even though she has asthma! Along the way, he stumbles into a random hospital room containing someone who has surprising connections to the plot! Will he ever learn who he really is in Christ beyond just being a coach?

Production Quality (2 points)

Okay, so, what exactly was this $5 million budget spent on? Much of the production is fairly uninspiring. As usual for the Kendricks, it’s fine and mostly professional-looking, but for reals…all we get from this dollar amount is a bunch of vanilla sets, props, and locations mostly pertaining to people’s houses, a school campus, and lots of running\training footage? The decade-plus career of the brothers who brought Christian film out of the dark ages culminates with this? Besides the overall blah-ness of the layout, tons of time is wasted on nothing special in this film, and the editing seems very disjointed and disorganized. However, much of this could be due to the lack of any substantial plot content…

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

…which makes us wonder what the story actually is here. What are we supposed to focus on? The less than half-an-hour treatise on small towns falling apart? Five minutes of basketball footage? Alex Kendrick getting angry and throwing things? A runner with asthma? A random guy in a hospital? In all actuality, the blind man in the hospital bed is the most worthwhile subplot of the entire film, and it keeps this section from being abysmal, yet we only hear this part of the story through spoken word rather than via effective flashbacks. The only way to fix this film would be the focus entirely on this part of the story (the past and present narratives of the blind man and his interactions with other side characters) through a non-linear plot style. However, we don’t get this in Overcomer as we’re instead left with a very disjointed and disorganized storyline that gives us no opportunity to get to know the characters except that Alex Kendrick’s character is an almost-perfect white guy who has to save a non-white girl. Therein, there are many disturbing themes, such as the white family being overly good as they help the ‘bad’ African American girl; it goes without saying that a very disturbing plot point involves the school principal telling the coach to aid said minority minor in going around and lying to her legal guardian in basically illegal fashions. These actions are painted as good and never receive any consequences because the white characters can do no wrong. It’s too bad that the cross-country athlete character never stood a chance with the poor dialogue written for her character…she’s essentially programmed to respond to the prompts of her Caucasian helpers with little thought of her own. Elsewhere, old Kendrick humor is dying a slow and painful death as cringe-worthy attempts at comedy litter the already-confusing landscape of this storyline. In the end, it’s very difficult to think this plot had any other goals besides pushing propaganda and some kind of weird suburban version of Christianity.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The Kendricks can choose literally anyone to be in their films; some cast members would do it for free, yet Alex insists on continually casting himself in lead roles he can’t pull off. He and Shari Rigby crowd out the runtime of Overcomer with bland and forgettable performances that drown out better skills from supporting (non-white) cast members who are barely given a chance to do anything. For instance, Priscilla Shirer and Cameron Arnett have plenty of acting skills, but we don’t see them as often as we see awkward white people. Aryn Wright-Thompson probably has something to offer if she was ever given a shot to do something besides robotically repeat stale lines. In the end, this section is fine, but it punctuates a surprisingly bad effort from the Kendricks.

Conclusion

Minus the unusual racial undertones and the bizarre condoning of illegal actions, Overcomer is basically a run-of-the-mill church film with a sports twist. Even without the glaring issues, however, this still wouldn’t be acceptable based on where the Kendricks are in the careers. They are basically at the pinnacle of success, coming off their most successful film (War Room), so their budget and advertising resources are clearly vast. They can hire and cast whoever they wish, including actual screenwriters, yet they decided to settle for a well-produced version of Flywheel combined with the worst racial stereotypes found in Courageous to create a blandly vague idea that focuses on forcing messages down the audience’s throats. In the end, it appears as though their refusal to reach out and try different collaborations is causing them to fade into the background of an industry they helped save from the brink.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Grace Unplugged (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Grace Trey, desperate to make a name for herself in the music industry, feels stifled in the small town that contains the small church her father is the music minister of.  What’s more, she feels like her father protects her too much and thus rebels against his boundaries.  But when her father is faced with a chance to return to his glory days as a rock and roll star, Grace is shocked when he turns down his old agent.  Seeing her chance to escape, she markets herself to his agent and lands herself the opportunity she has been waiting for.  Little does she know about the world she has opened herself up to by going against the wishes of her parents in order to chase fame.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The production of Grace Unplugged is really not that bad.  The camera work is professional and the video and sound quality are as they should be.  Having an original soundtrack is commendable, even if this one is just average.  The sets are fairly diverse and on the surface, it looks like a modern movie.  The editing needs some work, but one can understand why it struggles with the very shallow plot that it has been provided.  Otherwise, there is nothing much to comment about here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As previously mentioned, while this plot is a seemingly interesting idea that is based on true events, it never finds the promised land, so to speak.  The plot is choppy and rushed, the Christian message understated, and the dialogue empty.  The characters seem forced; no time is taken to make them seem realistic.  Suggestive content is dealt with in odd fashions and there is simply too much runtime in this movie.  It takes up a lot of the viewer’s time without accomplishing much.  It drives to an end goal without attempting to draw one into the plot.  It is commendable to highlight the dangers of the music industry, but this movie is so slapped together that no one will notice.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

The actors are either bland, vanilla, or trying too hard.  In her major debut, AJ Michalka seems trying too hard.  The supporting cast is either phoning it in or vying for more screen time.  Chris Tomlin and Jamie Grace seem tacked onto the movie; it could have been better if they had been given larger roles.  Again, there was really not much for these actors to work with, but they didn’t bring much to the table either.

Conclusion

For a modest budget production and an intriguing plot idea, more should have come out of Grace Unplugged.  This is an important issue that was not dealt with properly.  The emotional struggles of the characters are not tangible; everything just happens on the surface in route to an overstated conclusion.  Grace Unplugged is a prime example of potential that was left on the proverbial playing field.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points