Fireproof

So I saw Fireproof over the weekend (as did, apparently, quite a few people: the $500,000-budgeted film earned $6 million in its opening weekend and landed at #4). I previously had no intentions of seeing the film, until my colleague Peter Chattaway gave it a surprisingly positive (3/4 star) review for Christianity Today. Having seen the trailer earlier this summer and lamenting the maudlin quality of Christian film, I had very little hope that Fireproof would be good, and suspected that it wouldn’t even be particularly watchable.

Turns out Fireproof was watchable (certainly moreso than its predecessor, Facing the Giants, which I couldn’t watch with a straight face), though by no means was it good.

I didn’t laugh as much during Fireproof as I did during Facing the Giants, and I only felt the urge to look away from the screen a few times. There were oodles of uncomfortably saccharine moments and heavy-handed digressions of overacting, but it was a huge, huge improvement over Giants. This makes me happy, but it neither excuses Fireproof for its numerous failures nor justifies it as a successful film.

Fireproof takes a promising, nicely compact premise—a relationship falling apart and the fight by one man (Kirk Cameron) to keep it alive—and removes most subtlety and nuance from it. What is left is a melodramatic, Hallmark Hall of Fame film riddled with clichés and one too many Kodak moments. The filmmaking is clunky and features some truly ghastly montages and sequences of editing (a “he said/she said” comedic bit is particularly bad), replete with Third Day songs and heavily-accented Southern supporting actors.

The heavy-handedness of it all is truly unfortunate. The whole “fireman” metaphor is clever but ultimately overplayed. “Marriages are not fireproof,” says Cameron at one point. “Sometimes you get burned.” Do people really talk like this in normal life? Do we really string together movie-tagline clichés when speaking of our personal struggles?

I also didn’t get why there were so many sequences of firemen rescuing people: girl stuck in a car on a train track (with train approaching), girl caught in a burning house (rescued by Kirk “why do I get respect from everyone but my wife” Cameron), etc. These moments had nothing to do with the rest of the story. The same could be said for some other sequences such as an unfunny comedic soliloquy for one of the requisite funny-guy supporting players.

This is not to say there is nothing good to be found in Fireproof. There are definitely some tender moments (especially featuring the elder “mom and dad” characters) and an overall feel-good vibe. Kirk Cameron and the female lead (Erin Bethea) have occasional moments of humane acting, to be sure.

Ultimately, though, Fireproof left a bad taste in my mouth, and it goes beyond the clunky filmmaking. Several ideas—both explicit and implicit—in Fireproof felt a bit wrong-headed to me. The film seems to argue that marriages can only really survive when God is at the center (Kirk Cameron only can start loving his wife again after he converts to Christianity). Certainly I agree that a Christ-centered marriage is a good idea; but isn’t it a bit problematic to assume that just because one converts to Christianity, marriage somehow gets easier? And what about all the millions of successful, long-lasting marriages that have existed throughout time outside of a “Christ-focus?” And what about the statistics about Christians having just as many or more divorces than anyone else? Don’t get me wrong: I think it does a marriage great good to have Christ at the center. And for a movie that is being made by a church (Sherwood Baptist), I can’t really fault them from honing in on this. But, to be honest, the least truthful part of this movie was the “Christianity saved my marriage” part…

There are other problems I had with the film: it felt pretty sexist, occasionally racist (why are the black people in the film the only real authorities on divorce?), and a bit too afraid of going to dark places (the words “divorce” and “porn,” which are crucial to the plot, are rarely spoken of directly). For a film about a failing marriage, the PG glow is not really the best fit.

Alas, this is a film made by a church. A church! The cast and crew (minus Kirk Cameron) are members of the church, and if they want to make a film, they have every right to make it however they please. Congratulations to them for creating a film from the ground up—a film that is now the #4 film in the nation. Not an easy feat.

As a critic, though, I can’t give them a ringing endorsement because of these extra-filmic circumstances. The best I could say is that Fireproof is probably the “best film to ever be made by a church.” It’s not a good film, but it is a small step forward for Sherwood Films and a tiny step forward for Christian filmmaking in general. A tiny step.

14 responses to “Fireproof

  1. yeah…i encouraged my parents to go, and they did and liked it.
    but i couldn’t make mySELF go, because i’m a freakin’ snob when it comes to Christian movies. they called me on my hypocrisy, but i just cried broke.

  2. “heavily-accented Southern supporting actors”

    Is there a reason this is significant?

  3. Kirk Cameron’s character “converts to Christianity”? Thanks for the spoiler, Brett. I didn’t see that one coming. It’s pretty sad when the best thing about a “Christian film” is that it’s… “watchable.”

  4. “heavily-accented Southern supporting actors”

    It’s only significant because Kirk “the only non-Sherwood actor” Cameron is conspicuously lacking an accent. Is his character some import from above the Mason-Dixon line or something?
    Actually I think the Southernness is one of the good things going for this movie…

  5. Yes, that movie. Scott Tobias is harsh, but mostly accurate.

  6. Pingback: Easy Answers « Evangelical Malcontent

  7. thank you. thank you. for being raw.

  8. I’ll agree w/Christian filmmaking–they don’t have the big Hollywood budgets, so they’re handicapped right there. Also, I really feel like the way God reaches most people is just through Christians loving them and accepting them–not a lot of preaching and teaching.

    Strangely, I don’t watch TV and rarely films and yet that is where my heart lies, in filmmaking (only a student on a VERY long sabbatical )–I am passionate to see truth and authenticity–in life and in film. There are rare cases where I enjoy being entertained, like “Iron Man” or that animated story about the fish with the short term memory. Generally I lean toward real life stuff like “My Left Foot”, “Stand and Deliver” or documentary films “Born Into Brothels” or this very quiet one about a guy who gives his run down castle in Russia to a group of nuns–stuff like that. If I ever make films, I guess I’ll end up with documentaries–although I’d like to use film as a teaching tool in ministry, just not sure what.

    An aside to your comments–yep, people stay married all over the world, not generally because of love, but because of societal pressures and money–you left that out. And so many Christian marriages break up because each individual is the center of their own universe NOT Christ–that’s the catch and a big one. In fact I see that as the biggest problem in the church today–all these programs; like a smorgasbord, instead of the simple gospel of Christ crucified for our sins, belief, repentance, surrender–Galatians 2:20–finding a person like that in church is like finding a rare diamond.

    Not time to edit, but thanks for your blog–I’ll be coming back to it.

  9. I haven’t seen the movie yet but I’m glad it did well at the box office.

  10. I just got back from watching Fireproof… it was great to see such a different-flavored movie on the regular, big screen

  11. I just finished watching fireproof & I think that it is a wonderful film no matter of the budget or actors it gets the point out, we all should walk beside the lord and shine with his light, The lord is the way to eternity, and it doesn’t give the impression that only if you have the lord in you can your marriage work, the message is – that it helps you along the way to have faith, hope, love & walk with the lord that all things are possible Luke 18:27. P.S. besides why bash a good god loving movie WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF

  12. Pingback: McCracken on “Fireproof”

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