MPAA Rating: TV-PG
USCCB Rating: Not rated at the time of this review
Reel Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Seven years after Pureflix’s smash hit God’s Not Dead, Netflix is finally getting into the faith-based film business. Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s off to a rather rocky start. One Week Away takes several well-established teenage film tropes, tosses them together with several musical numbers, throws in a dash of accidental spiritual content, and then serves it up with the hope of attracting a good portion of the 35% of Americans who identify as evangelical Christians. Netflix has created some masterful productions and I do hope they don’t abandon the genre, but this movie is a dish that will satisfy few.
Will (Kevin Quinn) is the typical “bad boy ripe for change.” His crimes include stealing a police car for a joyride, resisting arrest, and occasionally having his heartthrob haircut slightly out of line—but nothing like murder, rape, or arson. He is given one last chance to step in line or he’ll be put “into the system,” which is odd as he just ran away from his fifth or sixth foster home. To this end, he agrees to attend a one-week Christian summer retreat, Camp Aweegaway (yes, really). He meets Avery (Bailee Madison), the beautiful yet broken daughter of the Camp’s pastor and director (think a brunette Mandy Moore). The two fall in love until, inevitably, Will’s past is revealed.
Will Avery’s Christian upbringing lead her to forgive the man she loves? Will he put aside his wild ways to settle down with the girl next door? Will they run into the woods to sing of these questions while the camera circles around them at an accelerated pace? I think you already know the answers.
A Week Away was marketed on one unique selling point: it was a faith-based musical. There have, however, been other musicals that featured faith, including Fiddler on the Roof, Les Misérables, and The Sound of Music, all which are among the finest movies of all time. Yet, there has not been a Christian musical manufactured specifically for Generations Y/Z in the vein of High School Musical or Hairspray. Sadly, this prominent feature is its weakest element. When I saw Hamilton on Disney+ for the first time, I had several songs stuck in my head for weeks. But minutes after finishing A Week Away, I could not name or hum one song I had just heard in the previous two hours. The songs are all bland and written specifically to fit the goings-on of a particular scene. There was the “Welcome to Camp” song, to which everyone but Will danced and sang of fun in store. There was the “I’m too Awkward to Talk to Her/Him” duet and the “The No One Will Love Me” power ballad climax. It wasn’t bad, just forgettable—which, for a musical, is probably worse.
Another disappointment was the treatment of faith. Religion, much less Christian belief and theology, is a bare bones add-on, relegated to a few phrases rather than being an organic part of the narrative. This is a spirituality that was typical of 90s dramas such as Touched by Angel or 7th Heaven—that is, mostly emotional and very emotional. The audience is told to trust in God, forgive, and love one another, but there is no mention of sin, redemption, or salvation. There was at least one Bible verse mentioned but barely any prayer and certainly nothing remotely liturgical or traditional.
I suspect the absence of any substantive religious themes or content reflects an attempt to appeal to as wide a demographic as possible. But when it comes to religion and spiritual themes, it is usually better to narrow one’s focus rather than broaden the narrative. For example, Menashe was a 2017 movie about a Hasidic Jewish single father that was filmed in Yiddish with non-professional actors—yet fathers of all stripes could understand the man’s struggle in juggling fatherhood and faith.
Fortunately, A Week Away is not a total loss. The younger actors in the film, mostly newcomers, have such a palpable sense of joy and dedication that it nearly makes up for the paltry writing. Bailee Madison is the closest thing the film has to name recognition, with a string of strong performances in films including Bridge to Terabithia and Once Upon a Time. Her excellent performance bears all the hallmarks of a young child actress blossoming into a stellar adult career. Kevin Quinn is the closet thing the film has to a professional musician, having spent most of his career in regional musical theater. He doesn’t quite have the star quality of Zac Efron but is a better singer. My personal favorites were Jahbril Cook and Kat Sterling as the geeky sidekicks of the main duo. Of course, Will has a nerdy black friend, and, of course, effortlessly gorgeous Avery has the ugly duckling perpetual bridesmaid. But these annoying stereotypes are made less vexing by the strong chemistry between the actors.
A Week Away, in the end, does not fit well in any niche. Its cliché characters and overly eager mannerisms will annoy its target teen audience, and adults will find it downright silly. Many Christians will think it insincere and I think most non-Christians will say it “tries too hard.” Yet, even a mediocre film that celebrates love, life, and the goodness of the Lord is light years ahead of most mainstream fare. Unfortunately, the sincere actors must belt out their songs quite loudly to overcome a screenplay that is horrendously off-key.
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