Monday, February 19, 2024

A Week Away

Musical / Christian
2021 / 97 minutes
Rating: 9/10

When Will Hawkins steals a cop car he’s faced with a choice: heading to juvenile detention, or accepting foster mother Kristin Alway’s invitation to join her and her son George at summer camp. While Will doesn’t think he’s really “camp material” it’s better than option #1.

And it’s at this point that viewers find out we are in a musical, with foster mom, George, and Will all breaking out into quite the rendition of Steven Curtis Chapman’s The Great Adventure.

It’s only after he arrives that Will realizes he signed up for church camp… and now it’s too late to change his mind. Still, while Will is reluctant, he’s not a sourpuss, and with George as his wingman, he quickly starts to see the positive side of things. One big plus is the first girl he bumps into, Avery Farrell. She’s a camp veteran, the daughter of the camp director, and an extremely competitive participant in every event of the camp’s week-long “warrior games.”

One early hiccup happens when Will doesn’t want Avery to know about his criminal background and introduces himself as George’s cousin. George objects: “I don’t mean to be a prude , but lying is kind of up on the top top 10 ‘thou shalt nots…'” but gets distracted when Will promises to help him with his own camp crush, Presley Elizabeth Borsky.

On the first night campers are divided into one of three groups with Will joining George among the Verdes Maximus, and Avery and Presley together on the Crimson Angels. The “villain” of the piece, Sean Withers, heads the Azure Apostles, and the reason he’s the bad guy is mostly just his cockiness – his Apostles have won the warrior games every year for “just about forever.”

While the budding romance will get the tweens and teens, what makes A Week Away brilliant for everyone is the musical numbers. In a genius move, writer and producer Alan Powell features all sorts of 90s CCM songs to hook mom and dad, and then absolutely nails the choreography: these dance numbers are as good as anything you’ve seen. Cameos add to the fun, with Steven Curtis Chapman appearing as a frantic lifeguard during a beach number featuring his song “Dive.” Then Amy Grant shows up as a cafeteria lady while everyone is singing her “Baby, baby.” Their screen time amounts to no more than 10 seconds, but it’s a fun wink for parents who spot them.

This is basically High School Musical, though this time the Christians have one-upped their competition.


The cautions here amount to the sort you might offer for the Contemporary Christian Music featured throughout: it’s Christianity-lite, with quite a bit about God’s grace, and not much about sin. Will is a juvenile delinquent, but his crime spree is played off as just short of inconsequential (who can help but laugh when we’re told he tried selling his old school on Craigslist?) and as a result the story is about Will’s need for friends and family, and not his need for a Saviour.

A more specific caution relates to one lyric, where Avery raps that her team is going to win because “God loves us more.” Her camp director father quickly offers a corrective, but it’s not on the mark either: “God loves us all equally.” I asked my daughters if that was true, and they thought it was until we started remembering how John was distinguished as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 20:2) and David was called “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). And, of course, there’s verse after verse about those God hates (ex. Ps. 5:5-6).


Most kids haven’t seen many musicals, so I wasn’t surprised when a neighbor complained about how unrealistic this was. But her problem wasn’t that everyone was randomly breaking into song; it was that no one had phones! I thought that an observation worth sharing: who knows what dance numbers might just spontaneously come to be, if only we put away our devices! I’m only sort of joking. Shut down all the phones and screens, show your kids A Week Away, and then pop in your old Steven Curtis Chapman CD into your even older boombox and sit back and watch your littles bounce and leap around your hallways. This will get them dancing!

That’s the fun here: the joy. The music is popping, the cast are all lovable even when they’re moping, and shucks, even the bad guy gets redeemed in the end. It isn’t deep, but it is delightful, and you won’t be able to help but play it loud. A Week Away is the best of bets for a family movie night.

And, I’ll add, it’s also better than this trailer makes it look…

Producer Alan Powell starred in another fantastic (though not family-friendly) Christian musical, "The Song."

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Good Sam

Drama / Family / Romance
2019 / 89 minutes
RATING: 8/10

Kate Bradley is a TV news reporter following the “bummer beat” in New York City, covering fires and other tragedies. That’s left her a little cynical, and her boss is worried that it’s also left her more than a little jaded about the dangers she risks to get her stories. So when a story breaks about an anonymous good samaritan leaving a bag of $100,000 outside a financial-strapped older lady’s door, Kate’s boss decides to give her this safer assignment.

Kate isn’t happy about her new beat, and presumes there has to be some sort of angle behind the good deed. As she tells her cameraman, “It’s hard to believe that there’s somebody out there doing good deeds and expecting nothing in return.” But when the money keeps coming the mystery only deepens; “Good Sam” leaves a second bag of cash with a doctor who isn’t in any sort of need. The third recipient, a carpenter who’d been laid up with an injury, has no connection to the first two. And the news just keeps getting better when folks who’ve heard about Good Sam start acting like him, and starting their own Good Samaritan clubs, to do anonymous good deeds in their neighborhoods.

Good Sam would have been too sugary-sweet if it’d keep on this track, but we find out that Kate’s cynicism isn’t baseless: a tech programmer claims to be Good Sam, but Kate quickly exposes him as a fake. Some folks will even try to hone on other people’s good deeds!

I also appreciated a romance angle that was less predictable than most. Kate gets two love interests, both pretty stalwart sorts… or so it seems. Kate’s father is a US senator, and when she meets charming hedge fund manager Jack Hansen she initially turns him down, as she has a rule against dating anyone in her father’s political circles. Eric Hayes is a firefighter Kate keeps bumping into in her day job. He is as brave as he is private… or might the right word be secretive? Which of these two will she end up with? That’s another mystery, and viewers are left in suspense for most of the movie.


No language, violence, or sexuality concerns to share.

The only caution is for what the movie doesn’t have – this is a part of Netflix’s “Faith and Spirituality” category, but it isn’t either. While the original Good Samaritan story (Luke 10:25-37) teaches us what it means to live out the Second Greatest Commandment, this one avoids any mention of God.


The moral of the story trends in a humanist direction – people aren’t as bad as we think as they will sometimes do things for completely unselfish reasons. However, the Calvinist in me can recast this in a more orthodox direction, seeing it as an illustrated of how the world is broken but not utterly depraved, and the cyclical Kate has no right to be so in the face of the many undeserved blessings she (and we) receive daily.

While this is just a Hallmark-ish kind of romance, I’d give it two thumbs up for being way better than the average sort. The acting is solid throughout, the mystery and romance will keep most viewers guessing for the first three quarters of the film, and the lack of problematic content make this one you can watch with almost the whole family (though I don’t know if it’ll grab the under 8s).

That makes Good Sam a pretty rare treat.