Saturday, February 14, 2015

Of Love and Romance: The Real Message Behind 'Old Fashioned'

Delighted to have special Valentine's guest Rene Gutteridge on the blog today talking about Old Fashioned 

I loved this movie!  Though it is not showing in Canada right now, I was so privileged to watch a preview copy.   If you would like to read some of my thoughts on it, please go here 

Another note: Old Fashioned is a movie which resonates with the Christian experience and speaks best to the Christian experience. Please keep this in mind if you decide to see it. 

The Real Message Behind Old Fashioned
By Rene Gutteridge

                  Years ago, when my husband and I were first married, we decided to boycott Valentine’s Day.  Besides the awful commercialism of it, it also brought along with it false senses of emotion.  In our youth, getting a card or a bear or a chocolate rose meant we were valued.  If those items were received, it sent us on highs that rivaled certain subsets in Colorado, and lows if our school lockers remained empty.  In our college days, spending Valentine’s Day alone was cause for consideration of our very existence.  Will anybody ever love me?  Am I destined to spend life alone?  Am I worthy for even the sun to shine upon me? 
Then, as a young married couple, it was unclear if a box of chocolates was sufficient or if it should be diamond earrings.  Nobody knew.  Hallmark’s message was pitting itself against Kay Jewelers and it was just so darn confusing.
                  For that reason—and the fact that we had little money—we decided to blow off Valentine’s Day, nobly—if not naively—choosing to love each other like every day was Valentine’s Day.
                  The sentiment mentioned above lasted about a year, until wedded bliss wore off and we mistakenly decided we could afford a house. Suddenly, our pupils were not heart shaped anymore.
                  The actual boycott of Valentine’s Day lasted a full five years, until our firstborn was old enough to understand what Valentine’s Day meant: gifts of candy that he wasn’t allowed to normally have.  This in fact was its own lie.  He had candy every day—rewarded at preschool for saying his alphabet, rewarded at home for aiming at the toilet. Somehow Valentine’s Day had convinced us that this was the only day that candy should be had, when in fact candy was had whenever we wanted.  So Valentine’s Day was not spent gifting each other, but rather our children, then stealing their candy after they went to bed because they don’t need all that.
As our kids grew older, Valentine’s Day became a chance to buy them cool things and win unprecedented favor, according to the Today’s show, until it turned into the holiday where they expect cool things because of their belief that they are highly favored.  Now we spend the week of Valentine’s Day lowering everybody’s expectations.  “A new iPhone?” they’ll ask.  “How about new ear buds,” we reply.
                  My husband, Sean, and I have been married 19 years. I can honestly say they’ve gone by in a flash.  Our life circumstances in general have had a lot of different challenges, and in place of romance, we’ve often times relented to simply trying to survive particularly rough seasons.  Some people may rebuff this, scolding us for not taking the time to date each other and spend certain anniversaries on Groupon cruises.
                  But what has been forged through these fires has been something awfully deeper than date night.  Those vows we spoke to each other years ago have become rock solid.  We have found ourselves on the other side of them, realizing we didn’t just say them, but kept them.  You sort of come crawling out of the tar pit with your backside smoking.  You collapse to the ground, reach for one another with grotesque, black, melty hands and say, “My gosh, we made it.”  You might smell like a rancid version of sulfur but you’re not leaving the other man behind.
                  As you can see, I’m the picture of romance.  The truth is, I’m not a big fan.  The idealist behind Valentine’s Day—Cupid himself—is sort of where the problems start, and it’s downhill from there.  Not that romance doesn’t have its place. But when all your feelings begin and end on the shallow  sensibilities of a pudgy man-child in a diaper, you’ve already shot yourself in the foot with the kind of weapon only Jennifer Lawrence wields well.
                  So, when Tyndale asked me to read Rik Swartzwelder’s script for Old Fashioned, to see if it was a project I could wrap my enthusiasm around, I wasn’t thrilled at first. Though Tyndale has a talent for picking worthwhile, out-of-the-box projects, I assumed from the title that Old Fashioned would be the kind of story that you’d expect from the genre—the delightful little wrapped chocolate inside a predictable heart-shaped box.
                  I opened the script up late one night, intending to read thirty or so pages just to get a feel for how romancy this thing was going to get. I figured I’d need a good, stiff espresso in the morning to push myself through the rest of it.  My view is that romance carries you about as far as a man can reasonably carry a woman without grunting—which is basically just on the other side of the threshold.  Then you’re dropped with a thud and forced to dust yourself off.  Romance as the world has shown us lasts as long as the heart shaped chocolate box, the one with a measly five chocolates.  You couldn’t spring for the one with twenty?  
But Old Fashioned surprised me.  This was not, as people have presumed, a story about the right way to do romance.  “We’re Old Fashioned, you’re not, so we’re better than you.”  Deep within this story is this amazing gem…the thing that I emotionally collapsed over…the reason that I wanted to be, I desperately had to be, a part of this project.  The reason why I read it straight through that night.
                  The story is about brokenness.   It’s told through the eyes of two characters.  By-the-book Clay is the epitome of brokenness through sin, climbing his way back to forgiveness through rules he’s imposed upon himself and everyone else.  Free-willed Amber is running from a past and a life that has brought her nothing but grief, refusing to be caged by anything ever again, including a man.
                  These two characters find their way to each other, perplexed by the other’s choice of coping mechanisms.  In the midst of viewing themselves as virtually unlovable, they find the courage to love anyway.  And birthed right there is healing.  And from healing, hope.  And from hope, love.  And from love…date night.
                  What drew me so much to Old Fashioned was that it was real.  So often we want to idealize romance, and in particular Christian romance and love.  We want to step it out like an AA program.  We want an owner’s manual as if it were a Buick.  We take Solomon’s book on love and forget the heart- rending stories of the other lovers of the Bible, whose commitments to one another withstood some of the harshest, most treacherous and least romantic environments ever recorded.
                  Old Fashioned will make you squirm, because it reveals two characters crushed by a broken world, chained to unsightly pasts, clawing their way to feeling loved again.  You’ll squirm because you’ll see yourself in them.
                  That’s what hooked my heart.  That’s why I cried when I read the script, and then cried again when I wrote the book and then again when I watched the movie.  There is a line in the book: Be a good steward of your pain.  This story sheds all the preconceived notions and sparkly fairy dust of what worldly and Christian romance should be, and simply follows two characters along a painful path of self-discovery right into God’s grace.
                  At 42, romance looks different to me than it did when I was 22, and even 32.  The landscape has changed.  The priorities have changes.  The definition has changed.  I no longer feel the guilt of months gone by without date night.  The other day Sean and I went couch shopping.  More fun couldn’t have been had.  We walked around, plopping our backsides down on various cushions, trailed closely by sales-associate-by-commission Graham, who was desperately hoping we’d pick one sooner than later, and something over five-hundred bucks please.  (We could see it in his eyes.)  We wandered into the leather and entertainment section and dreamed about a 60 inch TV in front of leather recliners that had butt warmers and blue tooth surround sound that filtered through the night-glow cup holders on each arm. 
                  As we left, Sean quipped, “You know you’re old when couch shopping is a date!”  And we laughed about that and had Starbucks and reminisced about our first couch.  Why,” Sean asked, “did we pick out that pattern?”  We spent a good half hour trying to remember, because it was hideous.
                  After you spend time by book or movie or both with Clay Walsh and Amber Hewson, you will find yourself cheering these two on, not because they’ve hands down beat out every romantic endeavor known to man, but because they crawled out of the tar pit, learned of their great value apart from one another, and found forgiveness and healing from their own brokenness, so they could be together.
                  But let me just warn you now—this story has managed one of the most romantic endings I’ve ever had the pleasure of writing.  And I gobbled it down like a box of chocolates. Why?

Because it felt real.

Buy the novelization of Old Fashioned

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