Review by Gene
I recently received a request from a regular reader to review (lot of r-words there…) a movie they caught on Netflix and loved. The first thing they mentioned was that it is a Christian film. If you’re familiar with many Christian films or have read our general opinion on them as a group, you can imagine my suspicions were immediately raised, and not in a good way. Christian films can very quickly fall into some major cliché’s and stereotypes, and unfortunately this film did not avoid any of that.
Produced by Pure Flix, the company which brought the recent hit film God’s Not Dead, Finding Normal is a story of a woman who finds where she really belongs through the bad coincidence of a run-in with the law of the small country town of Normal. Candace Cameron-Bure, recently of Dancing with the Stars fame, plays Dr. Lisa Leland. Dr. Leland is a high-class city doctor with a generally poor outlook on the humble and simple things in life, including the people residing in small country towns. When she and her boyfriend of 5 years decide to travel to the Hamptons to do house calls (read: big money), a local cop ruins her plans when he pulls her over for speeding.
I hate giving bad reviews of films that others I know really loved, but I just can’t ignore so many head-shakingly silly moments. The scene when Lisa is pulled over by the local police officer perfectly captures the rest of the film. The officer is best described as a “country bumpkin”, and what’s worse is it seems as though the director specifically asked for that type of character. Picture Barney from The Andy Griffith show, but not funny, and you’re coming close. Like I said, I don’t want this review to be a rip-fest. There are some good Christian elements we can draw out of it, but this is just the type of film that makes people leery to watch Christian films at all.
Dr. Leland also happens to have dozens of unpaid parking tickets to her name, so she also gets to visit the local judge, who is of course also the local doctor, the coroner, former mayor and the local preacher at the only church in town. Oh, and he’s the wisest and most reasonable man in the film, of course. Known only as “Doc Shelby”, he’s the only man who Dr. Leland feels she can have a reasonable conversation with, but only once she learns of his law license and medical degree. That’s her outlook on just about everyone in this town. They’re less educated, less informed, and worse-off than she is. This attitude shines through for sure a few times but it isn’t laid on real thick. It was enough however to remind me of something Paul said. In his first letter to the Corinthians he wrote, “consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong.” (1 Cor. 1:26f). The “wise” and “strong” referred to here are those who rely on their own wisdom, their own knowledge and strength, and cause themselves to get in their own way of finding God. God doesn’t need our wisdom or our strength. He wants a clean slate. He wants weak and the meek in heart. When we have a proper view of our self in light of God’s power and love, then we’re open for God’s strength and wisdom to go ahead before us rather than leaning on our own understanding or abilities.
Unfortunately there was at least one country boy in the town of Normal that confirmed some of Lisa’s suspicions about country-folk. Lucas Craig, played by Trevor St. John, didn’t leave the best of first impressions on the good doctor. He came off just as judgmental and close-minded as she was and resulted in quite an awkward dinner encounter. It was encounters like this, and Lisa’s general attitude toward being in this town at all, that made some scenarios in the film pretty unlikely. She pretty much goes where and does what Doc Shelby tells her to do. Of course, she is serving 24 hours of community service, so I guess she kinda has to. Lucas is quick to apologize for his words at the dinner table, and we start to see an immediate contrast between Lucas and Dr. Leland’s boyfriend waiting on her in the Hamptons. Lucas begins to be kind and welcoming to her, and most of the interactions we see with the boyfriend are him pointing out how much money they’re losing by her not being there to do house-calls. Lucas shows respect for his elders, kindness towards children, bravery against hostility to his beliefs… pretty much every stage-set scenario you can imagine to show Lisa how great a guy he is.
Without a doubt the best thing I drew from this films was from a sermon delivered by the all-wise Doc Shelby. He’s preaching on Jesus’ well known line, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden. Take my yoke upon you and I will give you rest…” (Mt. 11:28f). He makes a terrific point about how the gospel message is relevant to all. They don’t have any mustard trees or grape vines in Normal. But they do have pecans. He explains how, left to themselves, pecan trees will overbear and eventually crack the bow, destroying both the crop and the tree. “Our lives are like those trees” he says. We need to trim away those things that may look beautiful on the outside, but are just weighing us down. “If we do our part, God will do His part, by strengthening the bow” he says. This is the same message Jesus was preaching, but relevant to those sitting in those pews. They’d never seen a fig tree, or a mustard seen, but they could relate to the gospel because of how Doc Shelby explained that analogy. The gospel message is understandable to all and, most importantly, relevant to all no matter where or when they are from.
My rating: 2/5
While there are some good messages to grab hold on, as a film there is a lot left to be desired. The great majority of the acting is poor. Cameron-Bure does okay, but really no better than how many of you will remember her as DJ from the 90’s sitcom Full House. The only other performance even worth noting is that of Trevor St. John as Lucas. The background music is a little to over-bearing or unnecessary at times. There isn’t anything too exciting about the story in general. In fact, it asks quite a bit of the viewer to believe that a materialist minded person could have that drastic a change of heart in just three short days when nothing particularly ground-breaking has been revealed to her. Guys, if you’re looking to score some points with the girlfriend/wife it may be something they enjoy. It is a romance story after all and basically made for the Hallmark channel.