A couple of weeks ago, I watched and reviewed Flywheel, the first feature-length, widely-released film from Sherwood Pictures. I have been amazed by the financial success of this film and their subsequent release, Facing the Giants. I greatly anticipated their newest film, Fireproof, and have been tracking its box office results as well. As I suspected, their filmmaking has improved and, surprisingly, so has their scriptwriting.
With their new-found popularity and wealth, the folks at Sherwood Pictures can now afford technological upgrades and better-known actors. For their latest film, Fireproof, they cast Christian film sensation and 80’s heartthrob Kirk Cameron as Caleb Holt, the lead character. Caleb and his Catherine’s (Erin Bethea), is on the rocks. Why specifically we do not know. Caleb claims that Catherine does not respect him enough, while Catherine claims that Caleb is distant and unloving, consumed by that “stuff” he looks at on the computer all day long. We get the sense that pornography is a big problem here, though only one character mentions it by name toward the end of the film and we never actually see why or how it pollutes their marriage. Truth be told, Caleb is something of a jackass, in the most literal sense of the word. He is stubborn, constantly claiming that he gets more respect from his job as a fireman than he does his wife.
Caleb and Catherine approach the brink of divorce. When Caleb calls his dad for advice, he gives him a 40-day challenge, “The Love Dare.” This journal offers daily advice on how to be a better spouse, grounded in scripture. The advice ranges from the basics, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all,” to more intense practices of selfless love and patience. Caleb follows the journal and saves his marriage, learning much about himself, his faith, and his family along the way.
Interestingly, compared to their first two films, the Kendrick brothers downplay their characters’ reliance on God for everything. This is not to say that these characters do not pray, have faith, or believe in God’s ability to change lives. Rather, they seem to evidence here the realization that they have a very crucial part to play as well. Caleb’s conversations with his father, John (Harris Malcolm) are especially telling. John constantly informs Caleb, “You have to do this…. It is up to you….” While Caleb eventually prays for God’s guidance and strength, he makes decisions in his life to change ranging from purchasing his wife flowers to dramatically throwing away his computer.
To Fireproof‘s credit, it takes marriage seriously. By presenting a couple in extreme crisis, it shows how difficult life-time commitments can be. John tells Caleb that this is not about feelings, it is a decision. Feelings change from day to day, while the necessity of choosing is permanent, varying in difficulty given the circumstances. While many viewers may scoff at “The Love Dare,” it is full of sound, practical advice. In a society where over 50% of marriages end in divorce, we could all use a little “selfless help.”
As might be expected, the producers of Fireproof have progressed to the realm of promotional tie-ins and related material. You can have your own copy of The Love Dare. You can also fireproof your own marriage with this study guide. Visit the website, www.fireproofyourmarriage.com, to learn more about these and other resources. Of course, this idea of fireproofing has an individual, evangelistic component as well. In a couple of scenes in the film, one of Caleb’s co-workers, Michael (Ken Bevel), asks him, “Are you ready to die? Do you know where you’ll go? ” The obvious implication here is that Caleb should be immune to the fires of hell.
I was pleasantly surprised by Fireproof and am sensing raised expectations for their work in the media as well. I still have a few problems here though that seem to characterize these films. The main female character, Catherine, is still too thinly drawn. She is just an object for Caleb to love better…or worse. She does have real problems and temptations, although we do not see her work through these privately or personally, the way Caleb works through his. Like Flywheel, Fireproof‘s male lead is too “bad” too quick. We despise him early and have to wait too long for the inevitable moral upswing.
Fireproof (122 mins.) is rated PG for thematic elements and is in theaters everywhere. According to boxofficemojo.com, with a $500,000 production budget, it has grossed over $12 million so far.