Grace Unplugged: Film Review
Brad J. Silverman
AJ Michalka, James Denton, Kevin Pollak, Michael Welch, Shawnee Smith
A young woman defies her pastor father and pursues a pop music career in Brad J. Silverman's inspirational drama.
The sort of well-meaning faith-based drama that will please its target audience while leaving everyone else indifferent, Grace Unplugged tells the story of an eighteen-year-old woman who defies her pastor father’s wishes for her to play Christian music in favor of pursuing pop stardom in bad old Hollywood. But while its familiar story is decently told and it boasts polished production values superior to many homegrown inspirational film efforts, this feature written and directed by Brad J. Silverman is ultimately bland to make much of an impact.
As the story begins, Grace Trey (AJ Michalka) is frustrated at having to subjugate her artistic aspirations and play Christian music alongside her father Johnny (James Denton, Desperate Housewives), a former pop star who years earlier renounced secular music when he cleaned up his drug and alcohol abusing ways and found God. One day his former manager Mossy (Kevin Pollak) suddenly shows up unexpectedly at his church and offers him a recording contract, precipitated by a viral video of an Australian American Idol winner singing his old hit song, “Misunderstood.”
Johnny declines the invitation, but by then Mossy has gotten to heard Grace sing and makes clear his interest in signing her. So without telling her parents in advance she picks up one day and heads to Los Angeles, where she is promptly groomed for pop stardom based on her own cover version of her dad’s song.
Cue the moral dilemma, as the innocent Grace soon finds herself caught up in the modern pop music marketing machine, including being set up with a handsome young television star who’s been recruited to date her for publicity purposes.
“Your body is the biggest asset you have. It’s your currency. Sometimes you have to spend it,” Grace is advised by the label’s reigning young diva.
Meanwhile, Grace, who’s started to indulge in alcohol, feels the pressure of producing a follow-up song to her hit single. When the label gets wise to her lack of songwriting talent after an embarrassing demo, they assign her a sure-fire hit. Unfortunately, it’s about a one-night stand, a subject matter that goes against her religious convictions.
Will she sacrifice her principles in favor of achieving her aspirations for stardom? Or will she find herself with the aid of a religious record company intern (Michael Welch) who invites her to his mother’s home for a home-cooked meal and gives her a book to read about discovering one’s faith?
While the subject matter certainly seems rife with dramatic potential, the film handles it in sputtering, uncompelling fashion. While its characterizations are admirably not black & white—Grace’s father acknowledges her gifts and the record company execs are far from villainous—the film’s reluctance to fully explore its provocative moral conflict renders it terminally bland.
Featuring a brief appearance by chart-topping Christian singer/songwriter Chris Tomlin, Grace Unplugged is certainly plugged into its intended audience. And the presence of such familiar faces as Pollak and Denton, both delivering well-nuanced turns, manages to somewhat elevate the material. But by the time the film reaches its predictably happy conclusion, audiences will have long stopped caring.
Opens Oct. 4 (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)
Production: Coram Deo Studios, Birchwood Pictures
Cast: AJ Michalka, James Denton, Kevin Pollak, Michael Welch, Shawnee Smith, Chris Ellis, Emma Catherwood, Zane Holtz, Kelly Thiebaud, Jamie Grace
Director/screenwriter: Brad J. Silverman
Producers: Russ Rice, Larry Frenzel, Christopher M. Zarpas, Robert E. Norton
Executive producers: Mark Burg, Larry Mestel, Daniel Jason Heffner, Anna Parducci, Jason Constantine, Eda Kowan
Director of photography: Stash Slionski
Editor: Robert Hoffman
Production designer: Darian Corley
Costume designer: Anna Redmon
Composer: Jeff Lippencott
Rated PG, 102 min.