For years, I have been a staunch critic of faith-based film releases. You know the kind. Gods Not Dead, Left Behind, God’s Not Dead 2, Left Behind 2, etc, etc, etc. These films are easy to mock, given their hilariously twee responses to sometimes apocalyptic concerns. Add to that the fact that their message, no matter how valid, is so heavily flavored with “God’s plan” that it’s hard to take any of it as anything but religious propaganda. However, all of this is stuff that I only “knew” based on assumptions, and I figured it was time to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to dismissing these movies as lame jokes. It was time I actually saw one. So when the opportunity to review God Bless The Broken Road, a film from the director of the God’s Not Dead, uh, franchise, based loosely on a song by Rascal Flatts, I jumped at the chance to check it out. I’m glad that I did. It was FASCINATING.
Now before I start ripping this supremely dumb movie to shreds, let it be known that I am fully aware of who this movie is for, and I truly believe that these people deserve to have entertainment made in their flavor of choice. I also know that, for what it’s worth, these niche audiences do indeed show up in droves to support these films. For them, God Bless the Broken Road will undoubtedly be a success. They will love it. The faith-infused morality on display will reassure their beliefs, and harmlessly so. I can dig that, even if it’s not for me.
But please, please be aware that God Bless the Broken Road, if you didn’t know already, is a powerfully stupid movie, crafted with all the panache of a workplace training video.
You simply won’t believe the story, and I can’t possible tell it to you without sounding like a rambling idiot, but since idiocy is the name of the game, I am going to try anyway.
Amber Hill is the leader of her church choir. She lives with her young daughter Bree, and it’s their shared faith which gives them patience in awaiting the return of Darren Hill, their patriarch, from a tour in Afghanistan. Simultaneously we meet Cody Jackson, a NASCAR driver whose recent accident has him busted down to a smaller circuit while he learns how to take turns more slowly. Since his coach is a very religious man, Cody is also being tasked with teaching children at the church how to race go karts.
Everything goes to shit when Darren is killed in Afghanistan, leaving Amber a financially destitute, faithless widow who is constantly at odds with her mother-in-law on how to raise Bree. She has forsaken the church and is facing the foreclosure of her home. But our friend Cody has taken an interest in Amber, and a cautious, sexless romance begins.
Also, there’s a man in a wheelchair who might have information about Darren’s death that could help put Amber at peace, but her stubborn, newly unreligious ways find her struggling to accept the hand that God has dealt her. What follows is a mash up of soooo many genres. It’s a financial drama, a family drama, a race car movie, an athletic redemption tale, a missing child thriller, and at one point, it’s even the blandest war movie you’ve ever seen. And it’s so so soooooooo long. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think Colin Trevorrow made it.
What amazes me is how on the nose every moment of moralistic posturing is. And every ounce of it has the exact same message, which could be simply stated as “Yeah, but God. So you’ll be fine.” A more generous reading would say that the film is espousing the channeling one’s strength to push through tough times, and having confidence that things can get better even when they look hopeless, just so long as you stick with it. That’s a message I can get behind, and for what it’s worth I can appreciate the film’s attempts at putting it out there. It’s just that when literally every single character invokes “God’s plan” in every single scene, it starts to feel a lot like “thoughts and prayers.”
If you do miss the message (see: you aight cuz God), the film drives it home aggressively at every turn. For example, during Sunday school, young Bree is given a mustard seed during a lesson which uses the Bible’s text to compare a tiny seed to a person’s faith in God. Sure, the seed is small, but it can grow into a giant tree! Just like faith!! It doesn’t matter how much your faith is shaken, you see, because if you just hold onto it, it can grow into big things. This is explained in detail EVERY TIME THE PLANT IS MENTIONED, WHICH HAPPENS AT LEAST 10 TIMES.
Remember our race car driver friend? Well he needs to learn that going fast is not always the best plan. You have to know when to slow down. Sure, going quickly might seem to be the logical way to win a race, but if you apply bursts of speed strategically, and let faith in your skills carry you through the rough turns, you can win the most important race of all – life. It’s just like how so many people rush around trying to solve all of their problems in one fell swoop, when really it’s solid planning and faith in God that will bring success and fulfillment. This is explained in detail EVERY TIME THAT CAR RACING IS MENTIONED, WHICH HAPPENS AT LEAST 10 TIMES.
Amber and Cody go on a date together. Cody mentions that “a great band is playing down at Harry’s tonight.” As it turns out, Harry’s is a coffee shop (no one drinks in this movie), and the “great band” is a solo Christian folk singer. While this guy sings hymns to people who have chosen to drink coffee at 8:30pm, Amber and Cody play scrabble. Amber plays the word “less.” Cody reminds her that “sometimes, less is more,” as he places the letter B down, making it now read “bless.”
I AM NOT KIDDING. SOMEONE WROTE THIS AND SOMEONE ELSE SHOT THIS AND TWO PEOPLE PERFORMED THIS AND A SHIT TON OF PEOPLE ARE GOING TO WATCH THIS.
I will give the movie this: It looks just fine and the core performances are solid (not the whole cast – a lot of them are godawful). It’s not amateurish so much as it is bland, and even as I worked to resist this movie’s “charms” I found myself still feeling for Amber, and being genuinely moved by the support she receives from her friends. That speaks to strong actors and a director who knows how to make it function. I carry no ill will toward this film, and I sincerely hope (and expect) that its intended audience eats it up. There is nothing on screen that could be deemed problematic so much as it could be deemed “not really for me.” God Bless the Broken Road, much like the music of Rascal Flatts and the flavor of organized religion, is not for me.
God Bless the Broken Road is now playing in Philly theaters.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.