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


Pass the Light

Pass the Light is the faith-based film I've been waiting for. I've reviewed a lot of faith-based films, written about their rise in popularity, and even written about why I write about them. This one does what I've been saying needs to be done all along; it focuses first and foremost on telling a good story, then weaves its religious themes into that story in a natural way. Pass the Light also avoids the need to include overt miracles or abrupt savings of souls. Instead, it offers a simple, heartfelt message of acceptance and tolerance, wrapped in an appealing coming-of-age plot. This is a genuine feel-good movie.

Steve Bellafiore (winningly portrayed by Andrew Garfield look-alike Cameron Palatas) is a student at a Christian high school. He's on the football team, but never gets to play. His teammates mockingly call him “Tebow” in response to his devout faith. Steve puts his money where his mouth is, though, volunteering at a local food bank every weekend and often visiting a disabled little girl and her father. Politics are not necessarily on Steve's mind until a congressional candidate from his district, Franklin Baumann (Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Gries), starts running on a hate campaign. Baumann preaches the social exile of homosexuals and “sexual deviants” (i.e. anyone who has premarital sex). It's the kind of message we hear all too often in real life.

Firm in his belief that Christianity should be inclusive and not exclusive, Steve speaks out against Baumann, and even decides to run for Congress himself. Of course, being only seventeen years old, he can't actually win, but he feels that injecting a counterargument into the election would be victory enough. Together with his feuding parents, his wisecracking best friend, and the most popular girl in school, Jackie (Alexandria Deberry), Steve sets out to make a difference in his community. Following the Biblical quote about good actions being more important than good words, he launches a group called the Force that seeks to help out in the community, while also spreading the word that God loves everyone, even those Baumann claims He doesn't.

That may sound a tiny bit hokey, although I assure you the plot doesn't play out in such a fashion. For starters, Pass the Light acknowledges that Steve doesn't have all the answers. He simply wants to stimulate thought and debate. Additionally, some of the things he tries either fail or take a while to get off the ground. Apathy, not surprisingly, is the biggest challenge he faces, and it's played realistically. The movie is also frequently very funny, with pop culture references to Star Wars and Rudy, among other things. Unlike most faith-based films, the characters here don't live in a bubble.

Much of the pleasure of Pass the Light comes from seeing the ideas Steve comes up with to take on Baumann. If you think the little guy can't fight the system, this movie may change your mind. Steve and his friends in the Force come up with something positively ingenious to rally the attention and interest of their peers. What they do is so cool that one hopes it will be replicated in high schools around the country. The character recognizes that change starts in your own backyard. Good deeds get attention, and through doing them, Steve maneuvers himself into a position where Baumann can no longer ignore him. There's a poignant contrast shown between the politician who talks endlessly about what he's going to do, and the high school kid who actually gets stuff done.

Too many faith-based films preach a subtle, but undeniable, message of intolerance against those who don't have the “right” beliefs. (Gods Not Dead being a prime offender.) This one argues that using Christianity to repress or discriminate against people – including homosexuals - is not, in fact, Christian at all. The film also avoids bizarre theories of Christian persecution that seem all too prevalent in faith-based pictures these days. Pass the Light is progressive, bordering on radical, on these counts, and thank goodness for it. It's a movie whose message is that God's love is unconditional, and ours should be as well.

Does Pass the Light have a few moments where it's implausible or borderline melodramatic? Sure. (There's even a variation on the old “slow clap” cliché.) It really doesn't matter, though, because it's also got good performances from the entire cast, a solid screenplay from Victor Hawkes, and sturdy direction from Malcolm Goodwin. And, most importantly, it's got a healthy message that Christian audiences are going to embrace. Pass the Light is joyful and entertaining. If you like faith-based films, pay attention to it. If you don't like them, pay even closer attention.

( 1/2 out of four)

Note: Pass the Light opens February 6 at Carmike Cinemas locations around the country. You can find a theater near you here.

Pass the Light is unrated, but contains mild thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 52 minutes.

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