Anything Judge Kristin Munson writes here is bound to be sacrilegious. She's thinking it though.
The religious sex comedy that believes in odd.
Finally, a movie for people who believe in Jesus and like boners.
Facts of the Case
The Franklins are the typical suburban family—if the name of that suburb happens to be Stepford or Pleasantville. Lawyer dad, housewife mom, cheerleader daughter and football player son live in a conservative Christian town, with only a few cracks in their saintly facade. When a car accident puts three of them in a coma, Jesus meets them in Limbo and relieves them of their original sin, leaving daughter Caroline (Aviva, Superbad) and the rest of the town to deal with the newly liberated family.
I'd be more than willing to forgive the Franklins if they'd just been funny. Instead, the majority of the comedy comes from having Ozzie and Harriet traipsing around naked, saying "boner," and putting ice cubes in a very peculiar place. There's an occasionally funny line, but the script relies too heavily on naïve people saying sexually outrageous things, and the dialogue is more cringe-inducing than the sex it references.
Forgiving the Franklins plays out in the style of an idealized '50s sitcom, then begins peeling the spiritual scab to expose the character rot beneath. The problem is, the rot is just as clichéd, like the self-hating cheerleader and the closeted manly man. The cleansed Franklins are meant to show the more tolerant side of religion, but after the family's near-death experience there's no indication they're still religious, except for the cross around mother Betty's neck. Caroline's epiphany made me smile, but the script so often neglects her growth for her family's that it feels sudden and unearned.
Part of the film's overall problem is that it can't resist going to extremes. Conservative Christians are heinous zealots, and the shame-free members of the Franklin clan are clueless hedonists. It's not enough that the hypocrites are especially hypocritical and the reactions overly reactionary, but every scenario plays out in a way that makes Reefer Madness seem downright realistic. This is obviously intentional, but, meanwhile, the robotic Franklins have gradually been thawing into normal human beings that no longer belong in this surreal world. If not for the press kit that arrived with my copy, I couldn't honestly say that writer/director Jay Floyd intended this as a religious satire and not a send-up of histrionic '40s fare like I Accuse my Parents.
The overall style of the movie requires a plastic performance, so it's hard to separate the performers acting wooden on purpose from those who aren't. Pop DaSilva plays the ethnic, muscular Jesus, who disdains the cross as a marketing tool and testament to the worst time in his life. Unfortunately this pivotal speech is disrupted by his stilted voice-acting. Mari Blackwell, on the other hand, is one of the few who manage the balance of ridiculous and severe in a natural way. Her portrayal of brittle neighbor Peggy would be right at home on Desperate Housewives.
Being filmed by the director and not a crew means some too-long shots and the occasional glare, but the transfer is awash with color. Everything from Peggy's pink cardigan to the stained-glass reflections in the Franklin family home are clean, bright, and beautiful, despite the limitations of HDV filming. The 5.1 surround doesn't utilize the speakers much, except for the soundtrack of off-kilter adaptations of church staples like "Amazing Grace." The movie's original red-band trailer is the disc's only extra.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Oddly enough, the sex scenes are the most restrained thing about Forgiving the Franklins and consequently the most effective. They're tasteful, natural, and necessary to the plot. The full frontal isn't there just to attract an audience, it adds a vulnerability that brings an extra level sweetness and eroticism to scenes of a longtime couple discovering sexual pleasure for the first time.
The "frank language" and "aberrant intimacy" promised by the ratings board means the zealots being lampooned in the film aren't likely to see it and if they do, it's only going to reinforce their view of homosexuals and non-conservatives. The only people walking away with the ideas that sex isn't shameful, gays aren't evil, and the possibility of being religious without being judgmental are the people who already think like that, and they won't necessarily be entertained.
Ultimately, Forgiving the Franklins tries to say too much in too small a timeframe and the positive religious message gets lost among the nudity and exaggerated storytelling.
Guilty of preaching to the converted.
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