State of the Art

‘Chasing Grace’ a movie for – but not JUST for – Christians

Two brothers square off after the death of a child in “Chasing Grace.”
Two brothers square off after the death of a child in “Chasing Grace.” Courtesy of Catalyst Pictures

Movies with religious themes must always be labors of love – love of God, of course, which is the reason to make them, but also a joy in creativity. Love of money shouldn’t enter into it, because that’s likely to be an unrequited love.

Writers and directors know that, except for once-in-a-generation flukes such as “The Passion of the Christ,” they will mostly reach people who already share the filmmakers’ beliefs. (Not that these folks don’t need reinforcement from time to time.)

Sometimes that’s a pity. Any of us might profit by messages that incorporate theology but show believers and non-believers better ways to get through life.

I thought of that Thursday night at a private screening of “Chasing Grace,” a Catalyst Pictures production shown to cast, crew and friends at Ayrsley Grand Cinemas. David Temple has worked on the film for two years as writer, director, one of its producers and a co-star; he introduced the movie, telling the crowd it was “this close” (fingers pinched together) to a distribution deal.

The Dove Foundation has reviewed “Chasing Grace,” giving it 4 stars out of 5 and suggesting it for audiences over 12 (which seems apt to me). That’s both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because it’s an imprimatur Christian audiences may look for, but a curse because other viewers may dismiss it as “one of those Jesus-y films.”

It’s not, really. Michael Joiner gives a spot-on performance as a pastor whose daughter gets killed in a freak accident, and who begins to become estranged from his clinically depressed wife (Ashlee Payne), his angry older son (Rusty Martin) and his peacemaking younger boy (Patrick Fagan). The pastor blames his alcoholic, unreliable brother (Temple) for the accident but needs to face up to problems of his own.

Temple’s movie will resonate most with people who believe a benevolent God has a plan for all of us, and seemingly random tragedies are parts of that plan. Yet it does two things that religious movies don’t always do.

First, it presents faith in God not as a cure for every problem but as sustenance during times we figure out how to solve problems ourselves. Psychotherapy benefits the pastor; I inferred that antidepressant medication might help the mom get over her staggering loss, and Alcoholics Anonymous would be a boon to the brother. (Of course, AA also proposes you give control of your life to a higher power.)

Second, “Chasing Grace” tells us that forgiveness heals both the person who needs it and the person who gives it. That’s a Christian idea, of course, but it’s useful to every human being on the planet.

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