If you’ve got some interest in seeing Woodlawn but you’re concerned that it might be one of those hokey, Christian movies, let me assure you that it is, in fact, one of those hokey, Christian movies.
However, it’s also one of the best pure movies of any film ever made in the hokey, Christian genre, claiming that title from the former champion, 2014’s Mom’s Night Out.
By “best pure movie,” I mean that it holds up well as a movie for its own sake; a movie that’s made to be a good movie rather than a movie that’s made primarily as a vessel for a larger message.
The direction is good, the music is good, the cinematography is really good. The performances are solid top to bottom. Nowhere do you see anyone who makes you think, “Well, looks like someone’s weird cousin Larry wanted to be in the movie, so they gave him a couple of lines.” It looks like a movie that was made by professionals.
And as they produce bigger and better movies, the Erwin brothers are starting to attract bigger and better professionals to their projects. In fact, one of the most glaring weaknesses in the movie is the gap between the regular actors who comprise most of the cast and the handful of roles that are played by big-time, legit movie actors, like Jon Voight, C. Thomas Howell (who absolutely chews the scenery every time you see him), and Brett Rice (no, you don’t recognize the name, but you’ve seen him in a lot of stuff). There really is a difference in kind between people who are good at acting and people who are good at acting on the big screen.
Not to say there aren’t some other standout performances. Newcomer Caleb Castille had the weight of most of the movie placed on his shoulders, and he didn’t flinch. I hope he goes on to great things.
Yes, there is the cheesy altar call scene, and the cheesy group prayer scene, and the cheesy “Pastor, I have something I’d like to say” scene (which is followed by the most inappropriate use of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” I’ve ever seen in a movie). But in this genre those scenes are kind of mandatory, in the same way that every Marx Brothers movie has to have that scene where Harpo stops pinching girls on the bottom and sits down to play a five-minute harp solo.
But if you’re looking for an uplifting movie with a Christian message, this is a pretty great choice. I promise the cheese will not overwhelm you.