THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Press materials for The Song describe it as “the sexiest faith-based movie ever.” While that's technically true, it's also an incredibly low bar to clear. Most faith films have avoided sex altogether. This one oddly asks viewers to become titillated by the prospect of an extramarital affair before delivering a message about the moral importance of fidelity. It's the only notable thing in a movie that is otherwise completely generic and doggedly formulaic.
Inspired by the Song of Solomon, The Song stars Alan Powell (a member of the Christian band Anthem Lights) as aspiring singer/songwriter Jed King. Jed is the son of a country music legend who got caught up in a sex scandal when he had an affair with a married woman. Desperate for a place to play, he ends up at a small wine festival, where he meets Rose (Twilight: Breaking Dawn's Ali Faulkner), a good Christian gal who's saving herself for marriage. They fall in love, wed, and have a son. Jed's career takes off during this time, meaning that he's often away on tour. His opening act is singer/fiddle player Shelby Bale (Caitlin Nicol-Thomas), and we know she's trouble because she smokes, drinks, and has tattoos. Shelby shamelessly flirts with Jed, and when the two perform together onstage - a song he wrote for Rose, no less - there's palpable chemistry between them. Before you know it, Jed is boozing it up, taking drugs, getting tats, growing a scraggly beard and, of course, hopping into the sack with Shelby. His marriage to Rose starts coming apart at the seams.
The best scenes in The Song come early on. Powell and Faulkner have real charm together, and they bring sweetness to the scenes of Jed and Rose falling in love. One especially nice moment finds him hopping up on stage with a banjo to simultaneously serenade her and humiliate the ex-boyfriend who dumped her because she wouldn't sleep with him. It's funny and romantic. The other highlights are the musical numbers. The Song has some decent tunes and performance sequences. Production values on them are quite good, especially for a low-budget feature.
The problem is everything else. As soon as Shelby enters the picture, the story degenerates into a standard tale about the downfall of a musician. How many times have we seen this? Guy becomes famous, gets involved with drugs and alcohol, cheats on his wife, becomes all-around jerk, etc. It's the oldest, creakiest plot in the musical-drama genre. The Song adds nothing to it, except an overlay of religion once Jed realizes he needs to give his life back to God. (Not a spoiler - you didn't expect differently from a faith film, did you?) The way each of Jed's hurdles play out is extremely rote. Yes, the message of redemption is uplifting, but coming after almost ninety minutes of familiar downward-spiral cliches, it lacks the punch it might have contained had The Song found a more unique angle from which to address the subject.
There's also something weirdly overwrought about the film, and it's not just the loopy dream sequence where Jed realizes he's turned into a carbon copy of his father. Shelby can't just be a flawed human being, she has to be the Ultimate Temptress, an almost literal devil-in-disguise here solely for the purpose of dragging Jed as far off the path as possible. And Jed can't simply have a few foibles. No, he has to have all of them. In this movie, there's no middle ground. You're either completely wholesome and faithful or you're a sinful abomination. That's difficult to relate to, as most people acknowledge their own flaws yet don't view themselves as inherently reprehensible. One also has to wonder why The Song doesn't treat Shelby's attempts at redemption as seriously as Jed's. There's a third-act implication that she's trying to get on the straight-and-narrow too, yet the script still treats her like an impediment to Jed's moral salvation. The more powerful idea might be that both characters hit bottom and recognize a need to change.
Little of this will likely matter to the target audience. Faith films have, by and large, been cinematic comfort food up to this point. They reinforce ideals the core demographic already believes. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. As someone to whom faith is important, I like the reassurance of a good Christian message as much as the next person. But there's real room to grow here. One of these days, a faith film is going to have the courage to come out and challenge the audience to think about and to probe their beliefs in a new, powerful, deeply profound way. The Song, with its automated plot and simplistic characterization, is not that film.
( out of four)
The Song is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some substance abuse, smoking and rude references. The running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.
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