This may be one of the most conflicting reviews for me to write. On the one hand, I want to approve the overall messages found in Fireproof: that good marriages take hard work and effort; that marital love is meant to be a lifelong commitment; that a relationship with Jesus transforms our lives. Those are all wonderful truths worth knowing and pursuing.
On the other hand, I can’t applaud Fireproof without serious reservations. The film suffers from a heavy-handed script, amateurish acting, and a severe lack of nuance. If the medium is the message, then I believe that this is a sadly lacking medium for communicating the richness of the Gospel message.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Fireproof addresses the all-too-relevant issue of a broken marriage and one man’s efforts to keep it alive. In the first ten minutes, we’re quickly introduced to the struggling marriage of a fireman (Kirk Cameron) and his wife in their first fiery argument that leads to divorce papers. After receiving a journal from his father entitled “The Love Dare,” the fireman endures a forty-day journey of winning back his wife’s love.
Subtle or nuanced, Fireproof ain’t. The first scene with the wife is a brief conversation in a hospital that introduces all of her family’s struggles and a doctor’s apparent attraction to her. In case we missed the doctor’s flirtation, the nurses remind us, “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the doctor has a thing for Cat.” Perhaps this is meant to speed up the process of empathizing with the characters but it comes off feeling forced. Much of the film’s dialogue are heavy-handed metaphors for marriage: “Marriage isn’t fireproof; sometimes you get burned.” Or, “You never leave your partner behind, especially in a fire.” The actors–mostly volunteers from the church producing the film–can’t seem to communicate without sounding like they’re reading lines from a script.
The overtly Christian message also comes across as a bit forced. A spiritual conversation between the fireman and his father includes lines like, “I’m a good enough person to get to heaven, aren’t I?” Cameron’s character cries out, “How am I supposed to show love to somebody over and over and over who constantly rejects me?” as the camera slowly pans to his father leaning on a large wooden cross. “That’s a good question,” he responds with a knowing smile. And cue conversion. It makes evangelism seem a bit too simple and formulaic, failing to communicate both the messiness of building Christ-like relationships and the profound joy when someone chooses to follow Jesus.
There are comedic elements scattered throughout the film that are clunky and unnecessary. A hot sauce drinking contest is mildly amusing, but adds nothing to the plot or character development. A surprisingly long scene devoted to one of the firemen dancing in a bathroom mirror is simply pointless. A repeated gag with an elderly neighbor elicits a few chuckles, but the joke is expected by the second time around. Remove the unnecessary scenes that don’t move the story along–including the decent action scenes involving the firemen–and you’ve turned a 2 hour film into a 90 minute one.
Sure, there are instances that pleasantly surprise and touch the heart. This is one of the only films I’ve seen that addresses pornography’s negative effects on a marriage (though the filmmakers seem uncomfortable directly using the word “porn,” as it’s never explicitly mentioned). While the film’s first half is mostly forgettable, the second act has some genuinely moving moments that involve forgiveness and grace between the husband and wife. I also appreciate that the conversion to Christianity isn’t the climax of the film, but rather the turning point and the motivation for the hard work to keep the marriage alive. This reveals that choosing to follow Jesus doesn’t mean life automatically becomes easier; it just makes sense of all the hardships we go through and gives us hope in the midst of them.
The argument will be made, “But this is a film made by a church. We can’t expect the quality of a Hollywood production. And we should support our fellow believers.” I agree, this may be the best full-length film to come directly from a church, though I’d argue that even the Nooma films contain far better spiritual insight and production quality. At the heart of it, this is really a church stage production put on film. The dialogue, the characters, even the direction and editing all resemble a church play in structure. This isn’t necessarily bad, but one should know what to expect before seeing the film.
Overall, Fireproof is a very mixed bag for me. I strongly debated not even posting this review, lest I sound too harsh. I have no doubt that God has used it to better people’s marriages. I know that local churches I greatly respect have used it as a ministry tool. According to their website, all proceeds from the film will go to creating an 80-acre park in the filmmakers’ local community. And it clearly communicates that Jesus transforms peoples’ lives. I applaud all of these things. My only frustration is that we as the church are capable of beautiful and creative works of art that can inspire and transform, that our medium can match the richness of the best message ever communicated. We are better than this.
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1129423/