By Jonathan Decker (Family therapist, film critic)
WHAT IS AMISH GRACE ABOUT?
Tells the story of the 2006 massacre of Amish schoolchildren by a mentally unstable gunman, that religious community's subsequent forgiveness of the murderer, and their outreach to his widow.
IS IT ANY GOOD? (GRADE: B)
Despite its status as a Lifetime movie and criticisms that it takes artistic liberties with actual events, Amish Grace emerges as a poignant and inspiring little movie. Due largely to acting and screenwriting that are far better than expected, the film transcends its made-for-TV cinematography, editing, and musical score.
It's true, some of the peripheral characters aren't well-developed and come across as caricatures, but the lead performances by Kimberly Williams-Paisley (Father of the Bride), Matt Letscher (The Mask of Zorro), Tammy Blanchard (Bella), and Amy Sloan (The Day After Tomorrow) are all captivating, each giving wholly credible explorations of pain, loss, redemption, and healing. The screenplay intelligently makes a case for forgiveness, love, and faith without any trace of condescension or criticism. The paradox of the Amish shunning those who've left their faith while forgiving the greater sin of murder is brought up, but sadly left unexplored; still, this is a minor issue for a film this well-performed and moving.
Historical fiction has always created characters who are composites of actual people in order to streamline the narrative. Films like Titanic and Glory have done this to memorable effect, but rarely has this been attempted with events that are so recent. One may question the choice to focus on a fictional couple rather than actual people whose stories are certainly inspiring. However, by having protagonists who struggle and doubt more than the almost superhuman real-life Amish seemed to, the filmmakers have given the audience someone to relate to. Amish Grace, therefore, should be taken as very good historical fiction, not as history itself, though it will hopefully motivate viewers to learn more about the actual events.
IS IT OKAY FOR YOUR KIDS?
Amish Grace was rated TV-PG. It tastefully addresses the true story of the massacre of Amish schoolchildren by a mentally unstable gunman. The shootings occur off-screen and though the characters see the bodies, the audience does not. Though it contains nothing offensive and is appropriate for families, the film is thematically intense as it deals with the emotional and spiritual aftermath of murder, so parents be aware and ready to discuss the story with mature children.
ANY WORTHWHILE MESSAGES?
Forgiveness doesn't mean condoning wrong actions or letting someone escape consequences, it means letting go of bitterness and hate. You can find peace in loving those who've wronged you.
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Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.