Faith, Family and Film: Mainstream Movie-Making With a Message
Forthcoming Moms’ Night Out Celebrates Christian Values With Humor
I have a confession to make: I don’t watch television. Reality TV doesn’t move me, crime dramas are a dime a dozen, and today’s sitcoms are just not funny.
Movies are my thing. Netflix is my friend. My queue is stacked well over 100 titles deep. Lately, I’ve been delving into the classics — films from the 1940s all the way to the ’60s. I’ve rediscovered great acting, profound storytelling and a level of morality rarely found in modern productions. I’ve gained a new appreciation for Alfred Hitchcock, Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis.
The industry abandoned the Motion Picture Production Code in 1968 in favor of the current rating system, resulting in a sharp decline of family-friendly films. Countercultural movies began to push the envelope by glorying sin, decadence and sensuality. Today, they’re the norm.
However, Christians in Hollywood are pushing back hard. Ever since The Passion of the Christ in 2004, faith-friendly films have been slowly edging their way into the mainstream. In the last few years, films like Courageous, Bella, October Baby and For Greater Glory have moved both secular and Christian audiences.
On tap for this fall is a promising family film from the makers of Bella called Little Boy, starring Kevin James (The King of Queens, Hitch) and Eduardo Verástegui (Bella).
And October Baby producers Jon and Andy Irwin recently wrapped production of Moms’ Night Out — a mainstream family comedy written, produced and starring Christian talent, including Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond, The Middle), Sean Astin (Rudy, The Lord of the Rings) and Sarah Drew (Grey’s Anatomy).
Produced by Kevin Downes (Courageous), Moms’ Night Out celebrates real family life — “where everything can go wrong and still turn out all right.”
“We wanted to make a film that the whole family could enjoy,” said Downes, who also acts in the movie.
When I visited the set in June — it was filmed in Birmingham, Ala. — he told me that the project honors marriage and traditional family at a time when the culture is headed in the wrong direction.
In the film, all Allyson (Drew) and her friends want is a peaceful, grown-up evening of dinner and conversation — a long-needed moms’ night out. But in order to enjoy high heels, adult conversation and fine dining, they need their husbands to watch the kids for a few hours — what could go wrong? Everything. And hilarity ensues.
Drew, who plays the lead in her first comedy, says she can relate to her character — a mother of three — because she is a new mom herself.
“I’ve wanted to tell a story about what it feels like to be a mom, especially a new mom, and I wanted to tell a story about someone who is coming from a place of feeling like they’re not enough to having a transformative moment, coming into a place where they’re loved and they are enough. So I read the script and burst into tears — because this is my story! I relate to Allyson and that journey.”
One of the film’s unique features is that it’s a story about Christians made by Christians for a mainstream audience. Filmmakers and cast alike told me that there are no caricatures here.
“I would never do a movie because of the message,” Heaton said. “The script has to be good; the actors have to be good. If everything is not good, that message is not going to get out there. You really need to be excellent, as Scripture calls us to.”
Heaton is an executive producer on the film, along with her husband, David Hunt, who joins her onscreen as well, playing a local cabbie caught up in the fun.
“My husband and I have always been entrepreneurial in spirit,” she said. “We like to read scripts. We’re always thinking in terms of story, so we put a production company together. We wanted it to leave a minor mark in our culture — excellence and uplifting, but not saccharine, not sentimental; something to inspire. There are a lot of voices in our culture, and we wanted to be a voice that might bring a different perspective to our culture.”
Drew — the daughter of a Presbyterian minister and school teacher — grew up in a faith-filled home on Long Island, N.Y. She said that one of the things that she loves about Moms’ Night Out is that it honors mothers without denigrating fathers.
“I want women to walk out [after seeing] this movie feeling like superheroes,” she said. “The stay-at-home mom is the greatest unsung hero in our culture today, and I want the stay-at-home mom to watch this movie and go, ‘You know what? This is the most important job on the planet.’”
Drew says her husband in the film, played by Sean Astin, is a “rock-star husband” who is always there for his family.
“This is not only a family comedy, but it’s also a love story about two people who are already in the thick of what marriage is, in the chaos of what it is to have three little children — completely exhausted, at their wits’ end.
“I think there’s something wonderfully rare about this film, in that you’re telling stories about marriages that are healthy. You can still have drama in a movie without the husband and wife attacking each other at every turn.”
Both Heaton and Drew say the film, slated for a 2014 release, is countercultural because it portrays the reality of marriage in a positive light.
“We’re telling a story where these two people are finding one another again and falling completely in love with one another again, in the midst of the craziness and chaos, and I feel like that’s countercultural,” Drew said.
Heaton concurs, but stops short of labeling Moms’ Night Out a faith-based film.
“Every movie is a faith-based movie; it just depends on what they’re putting your faith in,” she explained. “I think the minute you label it ‘faith-based,’ you ‘ghettoize’ it. Then you eliminate a bunch of people because they will just not go see it if that’s what they think it is.
“I see this movie as a family comedy about some Christians. It’s really funny, and we’re having a really fun time with the Christianity in it.”
If Moms' Night Out lives up to its promise, it could kick start a new wave of family- and faith-friendly films — possibly even rivaling some of the best of Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.
Patrick Novecosky writes from Naples, Florida.