The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Old Fashioned

There is probably an audience for Old Fashioned, but I'm not sure who it is. The Amish, perhaps, if they went to movies. By now, it's a given that faith-based films take a conservative standpoint on relationships, but this movie is conservative even by conservative standards. It's not old fashioned; it's antiquated. And part of the problem is that the film's unrealistic notions about love in a modern age are often unintentionally funny. Taking the movie as seriously as it takes itself is not an easy task.

Writer/director Rik Swartzwelder plays Clay, the former producer of Girls Gone Wild-type DVDs who found religion and now operates an antique store in a small Ohio town. He rents out the upstairs apartment to Amber (Elizabeth Ann Roberts), a woman coming out of an abusive relationship. She quickly discovers Clay's secret: to atone for his past behavior, he has resolved to be as chaste as possible until marriage. This means that he's unwilling to even be alone in a room with a woman. Seriously, he makes Amber stand outside in the cold while he does maintenance work in her kitchen. She grills him about his beliefs, only to learn that he will not participate in premarital sex, but kissing on the lips is off limits, too. The movie goes so far out of its way to emphasize the seriousness of his commitment that it's a wonder he doesn't wear a chastity belt. Amber likes Clay (she appropriately dubs him “Stress Boy”), and Clay likes Amber, but the question is whether he will be able to court a modern woman with all of his strict rules.

Old Fashioned is excruciatingly dull. It's like watching a movie in slow motion. Almost every single scene in the film is designed to emphasize Clay's nobility and purity. That same note is hit repeatedly for two overlong hours. (And when I say “overlong,” I mean that I had to force myself to stop looking at my watch, because it was discouraging how little time had gone by whenever I checked.) Clay won't be alone in a room with Amber. He disagrees with his best friend, a woman-hating radio shock jock whose name might as well be Convenient Irony. He ruins his best friend's bachelor party by lecturing everyone when a stripper shows up. We get the point in the first twenty minutes, but then the film just keeps delivering that point anyway. Tedium quickly sets in.

So how does Clay woo a woman he won't even be alone with? At one point, they go on a date to a hardware store, buy an ax, and chop wood out in public. Later, he gives her a magnifying glass as a token of his affection. The screenplay is incredibly ludicrous in the development of their relationship. Clay is so rigid that it's difficult to understand why Amber would waste time on him. He's certainly not the only nice guy out there. You can probably guess how the story ends, but I guarantee you'd never guess the hilariously sappy manner in which the ending is carried out.

In some ways, it feels mean to criticize a movie like Old Fashioned. The point here is obviously that chivalry needs to come back into vogue. Clay often talks about the importance of respecting women. Who can argue with that? And in a time when so many movie characters hop into bed at a moment's notice, what's wrong with a film whose characters take the time to really get to know each other? The answers to those questions are, respectively, no one and nothing. But here's the problem: to work, Old Fashioned would need to be about how Amber is drawn in by Clay's virtuousness. Instead, the story is largely told from his point of view, so it's ultimately more about how noble he is for acting as though he's carrying out a romance in the 1800s. The love story here isn't between Amber and Clay, it's between Clay and his beliefs.

Elizabeth Ann Roberts brings some much-needed energy to the mostly somnambulent picture, although her efforts are undone by Rik Swartzwelder. He delivers a deeply awkward performance that consists almost entirely of sensitive stares into the distance and speaking in platitudes. That's a fault of his screenplay, as well. Clay is an ideal, not a character, and the film has little interest in doing anything other than repetitively celebrating that ideal.

Old Fashioned really doesn't understand anything about relationships. It sees them simplistically, and it thinks that all they need to succeed is a healthy dose of virtue. Anyone who's been in a real relationship knows it's far more complicated than that. As such, the experience of watching Clay and Amber find their way to love is equal parts annoying and absurd. On one of their dates, so as not to be alone, Clay has his elderly aunt come over to chaperone. The old woman eventually looks at them and says, “Good Lord, would the two of you take me home already? This is getting painful.” I know exactly what she means.

( out of four)

Old Fashioned is rated PG-13 for some thematic material. The running time is 1 hour and 55 minutes.

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