'Old Fashioned' feels more like a play than a movie

  • Amber (Elizabeth Roberts) becomes attracted to a traditional values woodworker (director/writer Rik Swartzwelder) in "Old Fashioned."

    Amber (Elizabeth Roberts) becomes attracted to a traditional values woodworker (director/writer Rik Swartzwelder) in "Old Fashioned."


Mini-review: 'Old Fashioned'

Rik Swartzwelder's romantic drama "Old Fashioned" operates like an overwritten, first draft of a stage play translated into a movie, but with no allowances for the more visual and literal medium of film.

So, main characters constantly launch into lofty speeches, expounding upon relationship theories and articulating every thought they hold and every emotion they feel, relieving the actors of the burden of expressing themselves through actual acting.

The arguments between Clay (Swartzwelder) and his would-be girlfriend Amber (Elizabeth Roberts) become so shrill that his elderly Aunt Zella (Dorothy Silver) finally tells them to shut it: "This is getting painful!" she says.

At its core, "Old Fashioned" tells a cautionary tale about the dangers of letting the past rule the present.

Young Amber's car runs out of gas in a small Ohio town. She rents a room above the quaint Old Fashioned store, a furniture repair shop run by Clay, an older and extremely traditional man who respects women so much that he tells her, "I will never be alone in a room with a woman who isn't my wife!"

Clay dumps a series of oral essays on Amber, on topics such as dating ("That's just training to be skilled in the superficial!") and sex ("Nothing until the wedding bells!").

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Nonetheless, the effusively upbeat and outgoing Amber becomes intrigued by this guy, attesting perhaps to the grand mystery of human attraction -- or the need to move screenplay narratives along.

Swartzwelder, who also wrote, directed and produced this movie, comes off stiff and mannered as Clay, a fellow struggling with the guilt of a checkered past.

Amber, too, has secrets to reveal about her life before Ohio, but they hardly seem consequential enough to ruin her promising future.

Despite its tone-deaf shortcomings, "Old Fashioned" ranks as one of the better Christian-values dramas of late. Its subtle but distinct sense of humor undercuts the pious seriousness common to the genre.

Then, its interesting group of supporting characters -- African-American pal David (LeJon Woods) living in sin with white Lisa (Nina Hadjis), plus shock-jock radio pal Brad (Tyler Hollinger) at war with women -- keeps the project from becoming artlessly stodgy.

Still, "Old Fashioned" feels like a familiar work of juvenilia, something similar to those terribly insightful relationship dramas your college roommate wrote on lonely nights.

"Old Fashioned" opens at the South Barrington 30 and the Warrenville Cantera 30. Rated PG-13 for unspecified "thematic" elements. 115 minutes. ★ ★

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