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An 'Old Fashioned' Alternative to 'Fifty Shades'

New film offers a love story that takes the idea of godly romance seriously.
By Scott Williams

Every year Hollywood releases one or two major movies as their offering for couples who like to take in a romantic movie on Valentine’s Day.  Occasionally the movie is fairly wholesome, but far more frequently it’s not.

This year’s primary offering from Hollywood runs about as far from wholesome as possible. Fifty Shades of Grey takes the Valentine’s Day romance movie to the dark side of sex, centered around BDSM (bondage, domination, sado-masochism).

Thankfully this year, there’s an independent film alternative that’s romantic and wholesome and doesn’t involve sex at all.

No doubt, Old Fashioned will be dwarfed by the massive publicity and fan following for the Fifty Shades novel trilogy, which once held the top three spots on the New York Times bestseller list. But don’t be surprised if it develops a word-of-mouth following of its own.

The film, which debuts February 13, is being distributed to theaters by Freestyle Releasing, who took God’s Not Dead to the number 51 box office film in 2014. Granted, it will only debut on some 200 screens (as opposed to more than 3,000 for Fifty Shades), but the wholesome alternative to Hollywood’s idea of romance should give couples a reason to go to theaters on Valentine’s weekend and beyond.

“There is an audience out there that’s longing for more than the status quo. They don’t want to settle. They believe that love doesn’t have to be all about objectification, all about using each other,” says Rik Swartzwelder, the film’s lead actor, director, and scriptwriter.

Old Fashioned offers a love story that takes the idea of godly romance seriously, says Swartzwelder. Long before EL James started working on her blockbuster novel series, he was working to bring to the big screen “a story that, without apology, explores the possibility of a higher standard in relationships, yet is also fully aware of just how fragile we all are and doesn’t seek to heap guilt on those of us who have made mistakes.”

The film tells the story of a budding romance between Clay (Swartzwelder), a formerly wild frat boy who has been trying to turn his life around, and Amber (Elizabeth Ann Roberts), a free spirit who’s seeking relationships, but runs every time things get tough. Amber is on one of her runaway adventures when she runs out of gas in a small city in Ohio and ends up renting an upstairs apartment from Clay.

Clay has standards that most scoff at, including his friends. He’s resolved not to kiss until his wedding. He won’t be alone with a woman unless it’s in public. He doesn’t even believe in dating, saying it sets people up to be dishonest and only show their best side.

Clay has a lot of theories, and is very good at holding to high and noble standards. But in the process, he forgets to live.

After her initial shock at meeting someone so at odds with everything she’s come to accept about relationships, Amber is attracted by his thoughtfulness to the point that she’ll even entertain his theories.  Eventually, that includes going on a date, but he insists it’s done by his rules.

What an apt comparison with Fifty Shades. Christian Grey demands that Ana be alone with him and follow his rules in the Red Room of Pain.  In Old Fashioned, Clay’s rules are for the purpose of honoring his love interest rather than dominating and demeaning her.

That’s not the most obvious parallel between Old Fashioned and Fifty Shades of Grey. Both story lines involve alternatives to the culturally-accepted norm for dating and developing a romantic relationship. Obviously to most Christ-followers, starting a relationship with graphic, rough sex is beyond the realm of normal behavior. To most in the secular culture, though, Clay’s rules in Old Fashioned are just as odd. He expects Amber to dive in deep with him in exploring each others’ attitudes about marriage even before they’ve developed a good friendship.

Like Ana, Amber plays by Clay’s rules, but he ends up missing the important emotional connections that Amber needs—to know him emotionally and to hear him share how he feels about her.  She is even willing to deal with the pains of his past and the quirks of his present in order to move their relationship into the future.

Again, just like Fifty Shades of Grey … but without all the harmful baggage.

The movie reminds me a lot of Elizabethtown and of the budding relationship between Claire and Drew, (played by Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom). Her joie de vivre breathes new life into a man who is trying to come to terms with his own failure and disappointment with himself.

But where Elizabethtown has a few negative elements, there are none in Old-Fashioned.

The movie is a lot more complex and thought-provoking than I had expected from a faith-based film. Old Fashioned delivers a great message about relationships, commitment, and marriage. The superficiality of the dating culture may not be the best way to grow toward a deep, lasting relationship. But then again, neither does setting up excessive boundaries without emotional connection. 

And working through differences rather than running from them is the kind of thing that strengthens a relationship. A “dating” couple may have a lot of areas where their personalities and preferences clash, but so do most long-married couples. The key is making the commitment to love without condition, to accept pains and failures of the past, and to desire to see the other person thrive.

So whether you’re a dating couple or you’ve been married for years, you’ve got a romantic alternative to draw you to theaters on Valentine’s weekend and beyond.


Copyright © 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Next Steps

1. To learn more about the movie, watch the trailer, and find out when it will be in a theater near you, check out the Old Fashioned website.  Also, check out the “NOT 50 Shades” trailer.

2. Read more about the Fifty Shades phenomenon in "Fifty Shades of Caution" and "Is Fifty Shades of Grey Dangerous?"

3. Listen to Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery on FamilyLife Today.

4. One of the best investments you could make in your marriage is taking your spouse to a Weekend to Remember® getaway.  Find one coming up near you.

Meet the Author: Scott Williams

Scott Williams

Scott Williams is a senior writer for FamilyLife and received his journalism and Bible training from the University of Southern Mississippi and New Tribes Bible Institute, respectively. He and wife, Ellie, moved to Little Rock from Mississippi in 2004. Each of them received the legacy of lifelong marriage from their own parents—both couples were married over 60 years. Scott and Ellie have raised seven children and are now enjoying another generation in their grandchildren.



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