Imagine that the father of the “Prodigal Son” from Scripture once partied like a rock star before converting to the goodness of a Godly life. He taught his sons well, sharing the emptiness of his past as a place never to wander. But one son, thinking his Father to be boringly conservative, leaves for the bright lights and all that goes with it. Imagine the Father’s heartbreak after bringing a greater truth to his children only to have one runaway for a lesser existence.
Such is the situation in the movie Grace Unplugged, rated PG, in theaters October 4. But rather than a father/son story, it is a father/daughter scenario. And instead of losing worldly riches and ending up struggling to survive, the main character risks spiritual riches in place of fame and fortune.
Grace Trey, is a pretty, sweet, Christian teen with enormous musical great talent. Her father Johnny once put the “party” in rock star until finding Christ and leaving the stage for a church music ministry. He teaches Grace well, imparting both music and Christianity. It’s a happy ending, bad boy makes good story until the next generation. At the impressionable age of eighteen Grace gets the break of a lifetime but her Dad tries unsuccessfully to stand in the way. Without his blessing, she answers the call to fame and finds it’s everything she ever dreamed of, and a whole lot more than she ever imagined.
True to Life?
During interviews, the movie’s producers and actors were asked if using people, backstabbing, pressure, phoniness, and temptations portrayed on the screen is what the big time in Music and Hollywood is about. Their answers: yes, all of that, and no, that’s not all there is.
Writer/director Brad Silverman explained that even though you won’t see “inspired by a true story” under the title, it does reflect real life on the way to fame and also the reality that many parents confront. It’s about the story, not about the music business or Hollywood, according to him. “I did not set out to make a movie that said, Christian Music good, Hollywood bad,” Silverman said. “It’s about a girl who is coming of age and has to wrestle with the pull of God and the pull of the world.”
He shared that some of the inspiration for the movie’s story line comes from a friend, whose daughter ran away and has been estranged from the family for over six years. “Maybe she will see this movie and it will give her the jolt to come back to Christ.”
Silverman was asked if the movie is a case of art imitating life as in the recent shocking example of former Disney star, Miley Cyrus, raised a Southern Baptist by a singer/father. , Silverman shrugged but did not comment directly on Miley. “This movie seems to be coming out at the right time,” he said.
Christianity in Hollywood
AJ Michalka, 22, who plays Grace, says she can attest that the world will tug at a Christian’s faith in Hollywood. The successful actress, musician and songwriter has been named one of the top 25 performers, by The Hollywood Reporter. She was a Disney star on both television and the big screen (Secretariat) and she her sister Aly are platinum selling recording artists as 78Violet, formerly known as Aly & AJ.
“It’s not always easy, but you have to make the decision to follow your faith,” she said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found the only way to keep my priorities right is to get more into God’s word.” She points to family—like in the movie—as in important support system not to let faith it slip away. “My mother and my sister are my main support,” she says. “Everyone always loves my mother, and my sister Aly and I talk about everything.” With God and family at the center, Michalka said she has avoided a lot of the drama and temptation that comes with fame. “Family are the ones that will always tell you the truth, and that is what I like about the movie,” she said. “It doesn’t preach but the message is that family matters and to surround yourself with people who love the Lord and you won’t fail.”
Pre-production of Grace Unplugged had begun before a “Grace” was actually found but writer/director Brad Silverman said that Michalka ended the search. “We wanted someone who could convincingly play an 18-year-old, she had to be good-looking but the girl-next-door type; she had to act, sing, and play the guitar like Eddie Van Halen too. And, she had to be Christian too.” When the two met for the project—both sizing up the other—they also prayed together. “She was just such a gift from God on every level,” Silverman said.
James Denton is Johnny Trey, Grace’s father. He attended college on a basketball scholarship, dabbled a bit in acting then settled down to a job in advertising. At 28, he tried acting again in theater, movies and TV including the award-winning Desperate Housewives. Denton said being a Christian really does make a difference in Hollywood, or at least it should. “There are times when deciding not to compromise my values means having to turn things down,” he said. “Then, there are other times that I’ve done things and my Christian friends will question me if I should be doing that or not. So being a Christian affects who I am and the work that I do.” Denton said that as a father of a young girl, he identified with Johnny’s character. “I know what it’s like to see my daughter use a hairbrush for a microphone and sing in front of the mirror,” he said. “I understand first-hand wanting to protect my child from the dangers of fame.”
Shawnee Smith, who portrays Michelle, Johnny’s wife and Grace’s mother, actually homeschools her own three children. For her, the part in Grace Unplugged is an extension of her own values and hopes, not just her children but for herself. “I would love to be in a marriage like theirs,” she said. Although Johnny plays a central role, Michelle’s character is quietly strong and loving. “By not pushing and telling her husband what to do, she gives him time to decide himself what to do,” she said. “It would not have been the same or had the same effect if Michelle had been telling him what to do all the time.”
Smith’s character is certainly not timid or mousey. As often happens in real life parenting, disagreement over how to handle Grace creates tension in the marriage but never sacrifices their respect for one another.
More than Entertainment
Perhaps Grace Unplugged is convincing because these actors are not totally acting. Their roles reveal a part of who they are. According to Silverman, it’s the part of the movie he hopes makes a difference, because he wanted it to be more than just entertainment. “I’m hoping we prompt a lot of dialogue between families, that this movie is a conversation starter,” Silverman said. He would like it to also encourage people to re-examine their definition of success and consider the part that God plays in it.
For parents whose greatest desire for children is God, this movie will speak to the heart. For young adults and teens, who desire both God and success, it will stir the heart and present values to ponder.
Two books to accompany the movie have been released by B&H Books: Grace Unplugged is a novelization of the movie by Melody Carlson; and Own It, by Michael and Hayley DiMarco, is a book featured in the movie. The latter challenges readers to develop a belief in God that becomes their own.
Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. She has appeared on TV and radio stations across the country. Her latest books, Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and children’s book, Dear God, I Don’t Get It are both available now.
Looking for a Catholic Speaker? Check out Patti’s speaker page and the rest of the ICL Speaker’s Bureau.
If you liked this article, please share it with your friends and family using the Share and Recommend buttons below and via email. We value your comments and encourage you to leave your thoughts below. Thank you! – The Editors