Well, this is kind of a weird one. Trolling for a movie on a Tuesday night (I think it was Tuesday) and this movie Amish shows up on the schedule of our local Laemmle. No description. Can't find out anything about it. Director Richard Gabai.
Wait, Richard Gabai?
The same Richard Gabai who starred in Dinosaur Island and Assault of the Party Nerds? The very same Richard Gabai who starred in dozens of '80s and '90s Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski flicks that kept us up late at nights before the Internet allowed us to watch anything at any time?
That Richard Gabai?
Aw, hell yeah, I'm in.
Well, who knew? It was actually a movie for the Lifetime Movie Channel. This was a showing for the cast and crew. That's always fun because I can look at all the tiny people.
Honestly? Well, we enjoyed it! The Boy wasn't enthusiastic, but added it wasn't the sort of movie where you sat there regretting the choices that brought you to this juncture in your life. It's charming and it's sometimes funny, and I liked that (given the constraints) it was reasonably respectful of the Amish.
The acting was hit-and-miss, but as I point out in that review of The Graves, in low-budget flicks that's very often a matter of editing and pacing. This had a definite TV-movie pacing, with some awkward fade-outs to commercial breaks. (They don't seem so awkward on TV, but they stick out in a theater.) There were a few scenes that seemed like awkward line readings that probably could've done with some re-takes.
Beyond that, well, this is, essentially, a Romance novel, and we are most assuredly not the target audience. The premise is that Hannah (AJ Michalka of Super 8) and three of her Amish peers are running off to L.A. for their...uh...crap...I forget what it's called. The thing where they go spend a few weeks not being Amish, to decide if they want to be Amish for the rest of their lives.
As a sidenote, I just want to say that, if this is a real thing (and none of the Amish people I've run into have ever mentioned it), I have a lot of respect for it on the one hand. Treat your kids like adults and let them make their own decisions. Right on.
That said, what a stupid idea to throw teenagers into the Sodom and Gomorrah of modern life and expect any of them to come back. Even hard-working Amish kids (maybe especially them) are going to be tempted by the life of ease presented by modern day technology, loose morals and Barack Obama. (Bam! Just turned this into insightful political commentary! Take that A.O. Scott!)
Back to the movie: Hannah's friends adapt quickly to the "English" way of life, while she does the good girl thing for most of the trip until a sensitive and non-threatening DJ, Josh (Jesse McCartney, a well-established voice actor), catches her eye.
He shows her the world, at least the world of Southern-California-when-you're-on-vacation-and-not-having-to-make-money which, it must be admitted, is pretty damn nice. Well, pretty soon, she's comparing her modern life to the one back in the 18th century, and the modern life is looking pretty good, especially since she's been doing all her mother's work since her mother passed away.
The movie makes a few feints at looking at some really heavy issues before glossing over them for a completely pander-y ending.
Eh, I give it points for making the feints. But I presume everyone watching these movies knows exactly how they want the movie to end, as does everyone making them. I mean, if you're looking at the movie realistically, the main character sells out her sister to get her happy ending. But that's kind of like faulting the plumber in a porno for neglecting a house's infrastructure.
A few parts were casually amusing, though: For example, why would Pennsylvania Amish send their kids across the country to L.A., rather than to New York? (Obviously because they were from a section of Pennsylvania located in the Santa Clarita valley.)
The Amish "kids" are all way too old for their field trip, which is a standard Hollywood trope, so no big deal there. But they are varying degrees of successful in pulling off the Amish part. Michalka's all right, for example. Her boyfriend, played Jean-Luc Bilodeau (Pirahna 3DD), is perhaps a little exaggeratedly stiff, but it mostly works, as his character seems to be struggling with his role in life.
Actually, all the Amish men, including the great Ron Ely (back after a 15 year hiatus!), come off a little stiff at times. Brian Krause (as Hannah's father) probably finds the best balance between formal, stern and wooden. Bonus points for not doing the "thee" and "thou" thing.
Then there are Hannah's two friends, Mary and Sarah, played by Alyson Stoner ("The Suite Life of Zack and Cody") and Aurelia Scheppers, respectively. Stoner played the Tomboyish Max on "Zack and Cody", though she's blossomed since then. And while her character is handled somewhat ham-handedly to advance a few plot points, she's fairly convincing as Amish.
Scheppers (who was in the audience, I believe) I know nothing of, but her film credits have her as "Beach Babe", "Hot Tub Hottie" and perhaps most tellingly, "Venus Vavoom" and "Aphrodite". You get the idea. It's like casting Megan Fox as a nun.
It's not really about acting—there's nothing about her behavior that seems out-of-place—but the glowing makeup, the perfectly tweezed and arched eyebrows, and the glossy hair didn't exactly say "Amish" to me. I'm going to guess the target demo would prefer that to the kind of stocky, pasty, unibrowed look of actual Amish women.
But as I say, these were points of amusement more than scorn. It's a fine TV movie, with only a few slow spots, and if Gabai can get his sci-fi flick with Christopher Lloyd movie going, I'll be sure to check it out.