Last night Mrs. Thimblerig and I sat down to watch Corbin Bernsen’s 2014 romantic comedy, Christian Mingle. We thought it was fun, entertaining for a romcom (admittedly not my favorite genre), and good for a date night for a Christian couple. And while it was not perfect, I turned it off thinking Christian Mingle might even be one of the few Christian-made movies that could play well with a non-Christian audience.
Movie synopsis: Gwyneth Hayden (Lacey Chabert) is a frustrated executive at an ad agency. She’s frustrated because she can’t find a decent man and she feels like her life is at a standstill. Inspired by the happy looking couples on a late-night commercial for Christian dating site christianmingle.com, Gwyneth pulls a desperation move and joins the site, even though she is not really a Christian. This forces her to begin a crash course of studying the Christianity so that she can make her “faith” appear to be believable. When her first date from the site, Paul Wood (Jonathan Patrick Moore) turns out to be a keeper, she works harder and harder to become a believable Christian so that she can keep him. Will she ever find true love?
The goal of Thimblerig’s Film Reviews is to see how well movies made by Christians (or with Christian involvement) accomplish the five challenges I set forth in my blog post, What’s Wrong with Christian Filmmaking.
Let’s see how Christian Mingle did.
1. Take more risks
When I consider this category, I think in terms of the risks a film takes with the core audience, which in the case of Christian Mingle, means Christians. And considering the film’s similarities to Sex and the City, probably more specifically Christian women. However, the film’s protagonist is a non-Christian (or a nominal Christian at best) pretending to be a committed Christian, and so her journey isn’t necessarily risky to that target audience.
The film took more risks with Paul, by actually having a somewhat wishy-washy male lead who allows himself to be manipulated and controlled by the women in his life. His character raises the question – do we have the personal strength and integrity to do what we think is right, even if it goes against the plans others may have for us? Are we willing to step out and do something uncertain and even dangerous with our lives? The best part of the film is when Gwyneth confronts Paul with the truth of his passivity.
The film is definitely risky for a non-Christian viewer. If that viewer identified with Gwyneth at all, then they would be forced to confront their own preconceived notions and prejudices against Christians, and to take stock of their own life choices. The problem is, I don’t know how many people who aren’t Christians would be willing to sit down and watch a movie that takes its name from a Christian dating website.
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2. Challenge your audience
Once again, this movie is primarily aimed at the faith-based audience, and as a member of that demographic, I didn’t find it very challenging.
The one big exception might be Gwyneth’s co-worker, Pam. At the end we find out that she is also a Christian, but she never said anything. Gwyneth even calls her on this, but she replied, “it’s not my style”.
How often do we find people in our circle who are in obvious need of spiritual guidance, but we avoid having those conversations because “It’s not my style”?
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3. Recognize that art is art and the pulpit is the pulpit
For a movie that dealt with explicitly Christian themes, including a protagonist who is wrestling with her faith, this movie was surprisingly not preachy. While Gwyneth comes to Jesus, it’s a process, not an “aha!” moment. Nobody lying in the streets after being hit by a car, getting served the prayer of salvation by a random passerby.
In fact, the film has some nice moments of Gwyneth wrestling with God after Paul finds out the truth about her deception. This led to some nice un-preachy moments in a film that could have been very didactic.
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4. Provoke your audience by raising questions without necessarily giving the answers
This is the challenge where Christian Mingle let me down.
Five minutes before the end of the film, I was surprised and excited that it seemed like we were going to see a resolution of Gwyneth finding contentment in her singleness. What a completely counter-culture way that would have been to end a romantic comedy! The girl NOT getting the boy, but getting something of much greater worth.
Imagine if Gwyneth made her way to Mexico to teach, and Paul showed up on another mission trip with Kelly and the others. He sees Gwyneth, and we see the question in his eye about the choice that he made, and we’re left with the idea that he might just do the right thing and go with the girl he was supposed to go with. But he doesn’t do it.
And we see that Gwyneth, while impacted by seeing her old flame, is going to be just fine.
That would have been spot on brilliant. But instead, the film took the easy Hollywood route, and ended with the girl getting the boy after all. Ah, what a missed opportunity!
But I suppose with a romcom, it has to happen.
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5. Tell good stories
Ultimately, even with the disappointedly predictable ending, this was a good story. There aren’t many Christian romcoms out there, and Bernsen and company did a good job. The movie had a few welcome surprises, as it played around with traditional movie structures. For example, the protagonist’s dark night of the soul doesn’t occur when her deceit is uncovered, but when she is wrestling with God afterwards. And while she does get the boy at the end, that is just the icing on the cake. She’s already found true love in her very real Christian faith.
And really – how often do you see a female protagonist fighting to win a man’s love by embracing his religious beliefs?
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Final Score: 3/5 Golden Groundhogs
1. I don’t think Mrs. Thimblerig would mind my saying that the best thing about this film was Lacey Chambert. I wasn’t a Party of Five fan, or a Mean Girls fan, or even a Lost in Space fan, but I’m now a fan of Lacey Chambert. She did a great job carrying this role, and was adorable to boot.
2. I wish filmmakers would give the “…for Dummies” trope a rest. It’s just not that funny anymore.
3. I’m fascinated by the way former Hollywood names and recognizable faces are showing up more and more in Christian-made films.