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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.

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.

After he arrives, 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 delinquent past so he 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 and early 2000s 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 any parents who spot them.

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

Cautions

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).

Conclusion

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 the high cheese factor or that everyone was randomly breaking into song; it was that no one had phones! That got me thinking: who knows what dance numbers might just spontaneously come to be, if only we put away our devices! 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.

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"Be Fruitful and Multiply" tour comes to Albertan April 19-22

Families are having fewer babies, and the world’s population is expected to peak and then decline later this century. The world isn’t prepared for the impact that this is going to have. However, what may be the greatest challenge of this century can also be a huge opportunity for the Church to shine…. if we embrace the blessing of children, and are prepared to raise them faithfully.

In this presentation, Reformed Perspective’s Mark Penninga will unpack data, history, and God’s Word to make the case for embracing the gift of children with open arms.

WHO IS THIS FOR?

Ages 16-116, single or married, children or no children, these presentations are suitable for all mature Christians.

WHEN AND WHERE?

Edmonton: April 19 at 7:30 pm at Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church

Barhead: April 20 at 7:30 pm at Emmanuel United Reformed Church

Ponoka: April 22 at 7:30 pm at Parkland Reformed Church

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Family, Movie Reviews

Unitards

Family / Comedy 2010 / 107 minutes Rating: 8/10 The producers bill this as "High School Musical meets Napoleon Dynamite" but I'll have to take their word for it, not having seen either. I do know it is laugh-out-loud, tears-in-your-eyes funny in parts. When the vice principal charges Lewis Grady with building up school spirit, he decides to start a guys-only dance...thing (he isn't quite sure what it is, but he knows it isn't a dance team because that's what girls do). His two quirky friends are happy to help, even if they've got some misgivings about dancing in front of the whole student body. The three buddies bribe, beg, and bargain their way through the recruitment process, ending up with a group of a dozen or more. But it's one thing to get a group together, and another to get that group dancing together, especially when the guys have more than their share of left feet. But with a little help from mom and some friends on the school's award-winning girls' dance team, they start figuring things out. Right before their first public performance, Lewis rallies the troops with an inspirational speech that is comic gold. He reminds them of the dream most every student has had, of showing up to school in nothing but your underwear. "This is that day," he tells them: "The majority of the kids out there feel like they're showing up to school half-naked every day. Today is for the nobodies, for the average, I-don't-even-matter kids." Lewis wants his group to be an inspiration to the ordinary guys and girls out there in the audience, showing them you don't have to be awesome at something to do it, you just have to be willing to ignore the peer pressure and embrace the joy. The villain of the piece is the teacher who runs the girls' dance team. She thinks the boys are making a mockery of dance, and she wants them shut down, and she's used to getting her way. While that adds some drama to the story, this is mostly just goofy dance numbers, and quirky friends, showing how fun can be had when you ignore the mockers and set out to be encouragers. Cautions The biggest caution would just be the film's name. Unitards are a one-piece garment that dancers (especially ballet) often wear, but there is also an implicit, never made explicit, reference here to "tard," short for retard, with the joke being that any boys in a dance group are sure to have that word directed their way. It's in bad taste, but that it isn't made explicit makes it easier to overlook. While the dancing is modest by worldly standards, there is a lot of it, and it isn't the formal sort you might see in a "Pride and Prejudice" film. This is more the jump and bounce and shake and wiggle type of dancing toddlers through teens do. That includes some butt-wiggling moves that are a brief part of one or two of the dance productions. It's slightly sexually suggestive, but incidentally, rather than provocatively so. And when paired with the students' generally modest dress, it is quite tame. Conclusion Director Scott Featherstone combined elements of his own school experience with what his son Sam (who plays Lewis Grady) and friends were experiencing to come up with the script. Then he held auditions at his son's school to get all the actors. That's why the acting is solid enough, even though these are not professional actors. What they are is high school students playing high school students so it's not a stretch. And because the director and scriptwriter was a parent who knew the actors, some of these kids are almost certainly playing versions of themselves. What makes this worth watching is just how sweet it is. High school can be a tough time for many, and what we have here is a prescription for how your kids can make it better for others, and maybe themselves. Lewis Grady's friends poke fun, but they don't tear down. The guys do look goofy dancing, but they're also being brave, and some of the school's girls are smart enough to appreciate and encourage that bravery. This is high school as we wish it could have been, and would still like it to be for our kids: full of challenges, yes, but not full of naysayers, mockers, and killjoys. ...