God Bless the Broken Road

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday September 7, 2018

'God Bless the Broken Road'
'God Bless the Broken Road'  

Christian audiences will rejoice to see that Hollywood is offering them a patriotism-and-faith-dyed drama that celebrates faith. After all, who doesn't like to see themselves represented on the big screen? For those who just like the movies and don't care whether what they're watching is any good or not, "God Bless the Broken Road" will be a satisfying family outing. Guys, go buy up blocks of seats for your fellow megachurch parishioners now and knock yourselves out.

Here's the story: Amber (Lindsay Pulsipher) is a young widow who has lost her faith following the death of her husband Darren (Liam Matthews) in Afghanistan two years ago. Amber works many, many hours at the local diner - a place called Rosie's after its cantankerous owner (Patrika Darbo) - but though she's exhausted, more or less an absentee mother to her young daughter Bree (Makenzie Moss), and she's now resorting to selling off her furniture piece by piece, she's still not able to cover the mortgage on the big house she once shared with Darren. Well-heeled mother-in-law Patti (Kim Delaney) snipes at Amber for any number of things - there's not enough food in the house; she doesn't spend enough time with Bree; and, oh, by the way, Amber had better not even think about looking at another man any time soon - but despite her hard-nosed criticisms, she's curiously limp when it comes to offering any help, other than nagging Amber to let her babysit Bree.

Not that Amber wants any help from Patti... or anyone else, such as the military, which (according to this film, at least) has "programs" to offer assistance to military widows, programs Amber refuses to look into. Nor is Amber willing to look to her church for relief. Once the leader of her congregation's chorus, Amber neither sings nor attends services any longer, though she does send Bree to worship and to Sunday school - evidently, as a form of free childcare one day a week, while she works double shifts. (One wonders whether Amber ever cast a ballot for a union-busting, wages-depressing politician championing so-called "Right to Work" laws and, if she did, whether she ever came to comprehend the phrase "voting against your own self-interest.")

Sunday school turns out to be the place Bree interacts with Cody (Andrew W. Walker), a handsome young race car driver who's now in town for a little professional coaching... and, as it turns out, spiritual rehabilitation... from Joe (Gary Grubbs), who runs the local automotive garage but who also, as Cody puts it, is a "racing guru." Cody is the sort of arrogant young jock whose charming manner sugarcoats a bristly band of defiance that shuns wisdom, reason, and even the laws of physics. (I don't watch NASCAR but even I could guess, without having to wreck any cars, that if you see up while executing a sharp turn, you're letting yourself in for some serious crashes.) Joe drags Cody to church his first morning in town, then instantly volunteers him for the church's youth group. (So much for the vetting process.) As soon as Cody catches sight of Amber, he's a whole lot more interested in the town's social life, despite Joe's dismissal: "She's out of your league," Joe says, which - given that both characters are played by good-looking professional actors - is patently untrue.

It's inevitable that faith (or lack of it) notwithstanding, the ways of this sinful, fallen world will bring Cody and Amber together. (After all, as noted above, they are both young and hot; besides, faith-driven or not, this is still a movie.) It's also a given that his bullheadedness and her being gun shy around relationships after the loss of her husband will prove an obstacle that only the dad-deprived tween-aged Bree can bridge. Throw in a wheelchair-bound vet who's sort of stalking Amber because he has something he needs to tell her about Darren, a trio of longtime girlfriends who are still involved with the church and who press for Amber to regain her faith in God, and the inexorable problems concerning money, and you have all the ingredients for a film about loss, anger, and, inevitably, atonement (which, in this case, means meekly returning to the fold and talking endlessly about a simple syrup version of religion).

Problematically, that's exactly what you get: The ingredients tossed together with a little water and blended, without any real creativity or finesse. The chief problem, fittingly, is with the writing; director Harold Cronk and three co-writers have churned out a screenplay so lackadaisical in terms of coherence or narrative logic that it possesses all the literary competence of a coloring book. After a while, you throw up your hands and accept that this is a film that's not going to make a lick of sense. Instead, it settles for tossing out plot points you anticipate the way you anticipate anything that's this diagrammatical in nature and then bathing the whole lumpen patchwork in a gelatinous mixture of greeting card speak and utter nonsense. Voila: The filmmakers have almost two hours' worth of celluloid they can peddle to Faith Driven Consumers, Inc. with the sure and certain hope of their official seal of approval.

That wouldn't even be so disappointing if the movie didn't feel so utterly devoid of sincerity. By the final scenes, when every meaningful change is a rehash of the same talking point - the primacy of faith, the less critically apprehended and ethically contextualized the better - even the film's more effectual aspects evaporate. What's left? A string of pseudo-patriotic, theologically nondescript scenes that have zero emotional logic and feel as though they are being driven into your flesh by cynically profit-driven hammers. Audiences of faith might embrace this film - briefly - but it's hard to imagine anyone being satisfied with it for very long.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.