I had the chance to screen the upcoming Sony release Facing the Giants last week. This is the film that has garnered what one of my industry friends is calling, "$20 million in free marketing" when the MPAA reviewers gave the film a PG rating for "Christian content." When they were called on it, MPAA spokesmen backed off of Christianity as the reason for the rating, but, too bad for them, one of their original statements had included the note that some people might be offended by the prosletizing in the film.
Here's what I think.
There is nothing in the film to warrant a PG rating. Some people are saying that the film should have the rating for "football violence" and for "the infertility theme." Puh-leeeeeeeeze. "Football violence"???!!! The last time I checked, pro-football airs on network television several times weekly for three months every year without parental warnings. And that's PRO-football. The stuff in Facing the Giants is HIGH SCHOOL football! And it isn't even really good football playing. Certainly not graphic. Secondly, the infertility stuff in the movie is far, far less graphic than what would appear in the average episode of 7th Heaven. It's so subtle and vague that six year olds won't get it and pre-teens would learn more about sex from the tabloids in the checkout aisle at the grocery store. Honestly, the film should have been a G.
Having said that, I did find the film mildly offensive. And I mean for more than the usual sins against artistry that we have come to expect in movies written, produced, directed and starred in by Christians outside of Hollywood. And though I did see some talent in the directing here, the movie is uneven in acting, it's production value is low, and the script is pedestrian. But, honestly, more offensive was the on-the-nose, born-again languagey, prosperity Gospel stuff in the movie. I brought a young Catholic intern with me to the screening and he described the experience of watching the film as "awkward and embarrassing." It's a very particular strain of Christianity being spotlighted in this film, and, unfortunately, the filmmakers either aren't aware that they will be watched by most viewers as an anthropological phenomenon, or else they don't care.
The people behind Facing the Giants had every right to make a movie for the few hundred thousand folks in their sub-culture. Understanding that they made a movie they and their friends at church want to see, the critique of the film should be limited to how well they executed the kind of movie they made -- not whether they should have made that movie. Dissing Facing the Giants for Christianese is like attacking a porn film for having nudity in it. Or attacking the Food Channel for having too many cooking shows. That's what they do. Now, the question should be how well the Food Channel does cooking shows. My sense is that many of the secular reviewers who get a look at Facing the Giants will fall into this trap. Of course, if the filmmakers behind the film put their film into the mainstream, they have it coming. This isn't a film for the mainstream audience. The promotional materials for the film should make that clear. I'd be mad to go to a football movie and get hit in the forehead by a valentine to Islam.
The film should still not have gotten a PG rating. The truth is, it isn't the MPAA's job to warn audiences that a movie is coming from a particular sub-culture. Their job is to protect kids from harm. Now, if the sub-culture out of which the movie was coming was Skinhead Fascism or the North American Man Boy Love Association, it would be the job of the MPAA to flag the film as morally problematic. But Christianity, even over-simplified, saccharin, sentimental Christianity, is not a moral problem.
Facing the Giants is only potentially harmful to audience's if you believe that Christianity is a bad thing. That it is a subversive thing. Which is why the MPAA reviewers gave this film a PG rating in the first place. Despite their subsequent demurring. What's next?! Removing the Ten Commandments from courtrooms and Nativity scenes from public parks?!!
Oh, the humanity.