I watched both ‘Mom's Night Out' and 'God's Not Dead' this afternoon. In MNO, I laughed harder than I have in a long time, I cried like a baby, and for the first time ever watching a faith-based film, I didn't roll my eyes once. It is an excellent movie. This is the difference between having a faith-based film where the talented actors happen to be Christians and not just a bunch of Christians that can (kind-of) act. The message of the film was something that everyone (even non-Christians) can get behind: that moms work hard and that we can put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect. As a single mom, I know this more than anyone. I beat myself up on a daily basis for the fact that I have to work full-time and I feel guilty all the time that my son has to go to daycare. I feel like a failure as a mother all the time. Just like Ally (the main character), I look at those perfect moms when I am at church or dropping my kid off at school and go, “Well yeah. If I had a nanny and didn’t have to work, I wouldn’t have bags under my eyes either.”
The message was universal which is what made the plot totally work. That and the fact that every mom has been in situations like that at one point or another in their life. The faith of the characters came out of it organically (i.e. their belief that that we don't have to be perfect for Jesus to love us) but it was not the point of the film (that moms are awesome and occasionally need a break). The message of moms unconditionally loving their kids, no matter how hard they are to take care of, is an allegory for God’s love toward us, so it came out of the plot organically. Metaphor is powerful and anyone who has read Tolkien or Lewis knows that. This is different from other faith-based films that go in with an agenda to share the gospel, and throw together a poorly-written/edited movie as the vehicle to present it to the audience. An example of this would be the other movie I watched, 'God’s Not Dead’.
As an apologist, I was EXCITED for ‘God’s Not Dead’. I had a similar idea as a college student a decade ago and even wrote a five-page treatment for a short film idea, revolving around a college student who defended their faith to an Atheist professor. Of course it never got made, because it requires this thing called “money”. The biggest beef that most reviewers had was the harshness of the Atheist professor. They said it wasn’t realistic. That didn’t bug me because I went to a secular school and that happened to me. I would argue with my biology teacher at high school about Evolution until I was blue in the face. He would be condescending to me, act like I was ignorant because I believed in God, and handed me a giant stack of papers, filled with Bible contradictions and told me that if I could answer them all, he would listen to me. That’s actually how I started to find apologetics (I became obsessed with answering them) and when I ran into him a year or so ago at a debate, I thanked him for challenging me because it made me the equipped Christian I am today. Unfortunately, he is an Atheist to this day (reality check- not everyone who hears the evidence for God accepts it as truth.) Because of my own experience, I did think that the scenes between Shane Harper and Kevin Sorbo were pretty good. I could have watched two hours of just them as they had great chemistry onscreen. And I do think, despite what some snobs in the apologetics world think, Dr. Rice Broocks chose some great material for the debate.
So what bugged me the most about ‘God’s Not Dead’ (the film) was not the professor’s attitude but the odd cutting back and forth between scenes and cramming in of too many storylines (I always follow my own version of K.I.S.S. – keep it stupid-simple when trying to get a point across). The rest of the movie seemed like it was pointless and unnecessary and just a bunch of appeals to emotion. Also, the fact that EVERY student stood up at the end. It elicited the emotional response it was hoping for, I mean I was grinning ear to ear as an apologist, but it was unrealistic and unbelievable. You could be Ravi Zacharias (who in my opinion is one of the greatest living apologists) and still not every person leaving your lecture will have become a Christian (which is why I appreciate the last scene with Dean Cain's character tossing the cellphone in the backseat, it felt like an action his character would have actually done.)
One huge issue I have with faith-based films is that they don’t portray reality. They portray what they want to happen in a perfect world where everyone who hears the Gospel receives it, not what actually would happen. If truth is that which corresponds to reality, and we are sharing truth, should we not try and reflect reality as much as possible? In Art and the Bible, Francis Schaeffer said that, “The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars”. Our stuff should be the best stuff out there because as Christians, we are studying and emulating the greatest Storyteller of all time. Let us reflect God's effect on reality. Life is hard and not perfect, but we can have hope because He is enough. Let us be real, leave mediocrity behind as Christians in the arts, and start striving for greatness. Kudos to Patricia Heaton and ‘Mom’s Night Out’ for doing exactly that.