When talent goes from obscurity to stardom, a collective cheer goes up. It is the stuff of Hollywood movies and the basis of the wildly popular TV shows such as America’s Got Talent, and American Idol. And it is also the scenario in the movie Grace Unplugged, in theaters October 4. Except in this case, the success story is just the beginning of a much deeper plot; one that scrutinizes the very idea of success.
Grace Trey (AJ Michalka, former Disney Star and half the duo of 78 Violet) is a beautiful 18-year-old singer who loosens the ties to her Christian upbringing and family to grasp for stardom. Like any good antagonist, her father Johnny Trey, (James Denton of Desperate Housewives) stands in the way of opportunity. Grace longs to break free of his shadow in the church band and feels she has no choice but to defy her music pastor father to accept the chance of a lifetime. Johnny, however, is no mere music pastor and no mere father. He is thee Johnny Trey, a former music icon—for one Top Ten hit anyways—who found Jesus Christ and left his drunken, hard-living ways behind for something better. It is the better part under which Grace was raised–love, music, and Jesus Christ.
But when Johnny’s old agent Frank “Mossy” Mostin (Kevin Pollak, The Usual Suspects, A Few Good Men) tracks Johnny down and offers him a second chance at stardom, both Mossy and Grace are incredulous when he turns it down. Not wanting such an offer go to waste, Grace, sends Mossy an audio performance singing her Dad’s old hit. And thus, a new star is born.
Grace soon learns that the road to success is not on easy street, including the necessity of running away to Hollywood without her parents’ blessing. Johnny warns her that fame has pitfalls and that worshipping God with her music is a higher calling. For Grace, each step up the ladder brings more compromises and conflict. She is surrounded with people who know how to make things happen. They are not intrinsically bad people, just single-minded and thoughtless of moral values that might hinder publicity and fame. One exception, Quentin (Michael Welch) is an intern at her record company encourages Grace to take inventory of her choices.
The father/daughter conflict becomes the heart of the drama. Ironically, the very thing that originally bonded them—music—becomes the wedge that drives them apart. Neither character becomes the bad guy. After all, a father loving and wanting to protect his daughter is understandable. So too, is a girl who would want big things with her talent. The question becomes how far can one set off on her own without walking away from the most important things—God and family.
Michelle Trey, Grace’s mother (Shawnee Smith, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Becker) plays a supporting role in a major way. Her gentle character is best at loving both her daughter and husband but after Grace leaves home for Hollywood, it creates conflict between husband and wife. Her strength is subtle yet provides a buffer for Johnny and Grace.
Grace Unplugged wraps moral reflections into engaging entertainment. One cannot watch it without the thought: “I wonder if Miley Cyrus will see this movie and if so, what would she think?” The former Disney star with lewd dance moves at the MTV music awards and then appearing riding a wrecking ball nude in her latest music video, has some things in common with Grace. The plot with the evangelical Christian background and singer father, are hugely coincidental. A producer could not have paid for a more opportune coincidence. So, with that in mind, the movie is especially timely although Miley had nothing to do with it. She is just one real-life example of the path that Johnny prays his daughter will not take. Ultimately, the plot goes beyond the Graces or Mileys of the world and encourages everyone to ponder: How are talents and worldly success measured against our relationship with God?
Grace Unplugged opens in select theaters October 4. It runs 1 hour 42 minutes and is rated PG for thematic elements and brief teen drinking.
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.
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