The words "based on a true story" won't appear anywhere in the marketing materials for GRACE UNPLUGGED - but many in the film's cast and crew found something from their personal lives to identify with in the story of a teenage girl yearning to break free from what she sees as the limitations of her family and faith and achieve her dreams of pop music stardom.
GRACE UNPLUGGED comes to Digital HD and Video on Demand on Jan. 28 and debuts on Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD on Feb. 11.
Grace Unplugged comes out on DVD and Blu Ray on Feb. 11.
For AJ Michalka, who plays the title character, Grace Trey, the real-life similarities come from the experiences she and her sister, Aly, have had as they've transitioned their careers from pre-teen stars in the Disney stable to young adults now recording as 78Violet.
"I think what Grace is going through here is her turning point - and as Aly & AJ my sister and I had a turning point, too," Michalka says. "We've gotten older, and we're making our music match. So I can identify with that part of Grace. I think every girl can identify with the idea of wanting to be your own person but wanting to please the people around you at the same time. "
Of course, Grace's journey is not purely autobiographical for Michalka. One of the key issues Grace must face in the film is whether the Christian faith she was raised in will continue to be the guiding force in her life, even as she chases success in Hollywood. There's never been a doubt on that score for Michalka.
"As I've gotten older, I've found the only way to keep my priorities right is to get more into God's Word," she says. "You've got to be constantly upping the 'God food' in your life."
Russ Rice, one of the film's producers, has a little more firsthand experience with the kind of struggles Grace has with her faith. The idea for GRACE UNPLUGGED came, in part, from Rice's estrangement from one of his children after she decided not to embrace the faith she was raised on into adulthood.
Grace Unplugged is a feel-good movie you can see without feeling preached at.
"My daughter ran away six or seven years ago. She doesn't want to talk to us," Rice says. "She is living apart from her faith, and my prayer is that somehow, somewhere, she might see this movie, receive a jolt and come back to Christ."
Imbuing GRACE UNPLUGGED with such a jolt was the responsibility of Rice's longtime friend, Brad J. Silverman, who wrote and directed the movie. Silverman says as he watched Rice and his family grapple with the crisis of their daughter's running away he was struck by their "tremendous sincerity of heart."
"In that sincere state of heart I saw the trial Russ and his wife were going through," Silverman remembers. "This is a big issue in churches today - kids growing up and struggling with making their faith their own. That's the journey Grace goes on."
Of critical importance to all concerned was that Grace's journey not be trite or hackneyed - that the issues she is shown struggling with aren't presented in either a glib or heavy-handed way. She goes through a crisis of faith and conflict with her parents, yes, but she is not depicted as winding up "down and out" the moment she sets foot in Los Angeles after leaving her Alabama home and church where she sings in the worship band led by her Dad.
"I didn't want to make a movie about 'Alabama Christian music good,' 'Hollywood pop music bad,' " Silverman stresses. "This is a coming-of-age story of a girl who has to wrestle with her heart, not a story on the evils of Hollywood."
That distinction was important to Michalka, who described GRACE UNPLUGGED as "a feel-good movie you can go see without being preached at."
"This girl has a dream, and she goes about it in a certain way. And, in the end, she learns what she gets wrong." Film veteran Kevin Pollak, who co-stars as Frank "Mossy" Mostin," the music agent who guides Grace's career after she leaves home, also drew on some personal experience in bringing his character to life. Mossy, he notes, is based on a few of the people who have guided him over his 25-year career as an actor and comedian.
"I've had a few of these people in my life," he says, "and it's hard to figure out which ones to trust and which ones not to. Ultimately you get burned a couple of times and you learn. You always learn more from failure than from success."
One thing that was not hard for Pollak to figure out was whether he should sign on to GRACE UNPLUGGED. He was drawn by the film's refusal to traffic in cheap clichés by making Mossy a stereotypically seedy, and untrustworthy, agent.
"It would be typical, if not expected, for Mossy to be a villain," Pollak says. "But by making him a good guy who sees talent in Grace and not a devil, it makes her character smarter and her journey more profound. And that makes a greater emotional connection to the story."
Key to the film's power, he adds, is how "it depicts how Grace learns not only how to live the dreams her talent allows her pursue, but how she ultimately does it in a way that leads to reconciliation with her father, her God, and her family. It is wildly moving."
The biggest key, though, to giving Grace's journey meaning is how her conflict with her dad plays out. James Denton, who stars as one-hit-wonder-turned-worship-leader Johnny Trey, called it "tricky" to get the relationship just right. (Denton's based-on-a-true-story connection to the film: One of his first jobs out of college was in his Baptist church's praise band.)
"We couldn't afford for the audience to take sides," he says. "We wanted people to pull for Johnny a little, and to pull for Grace a little. She had to be just bratty enough for you to see why Johnny's rules would force her out of the house, and Johnny has to overreact to things just enough to keep Grace likable."
As Michalka simply puts it: "These are two people who love each other but don't always understand each other. They just can't seem to communicate."
The Johnny-Grace dynamic, and how it is resolved, is at the heart of what the filmmakers hoped to communicate to audiences.
"The stories of Dad and Grace go hand-in-hand," Silverman notes. "The theme for Dad is, sometimes the best we can do for our kids is to let go and let God take care of them."
As for the kids, producer Rice says he hopes the movie leads them to "examine themselves and their faith." "Do they own their faith? Do they rent their faith? Or do they borrow it from their parents? Those are the questions Grace has to answer, and I hope the audience answers them, too."
In the end, then, the ultimate "true story" the cast and crew of GRACE UNPLUGGED is most concerned with isn't about them - it's about those who see the movie.
For Michalka, what the movie spotlights is the importance of family and faith.
"Family matters. That's what Grace figures out," she says. "Family are the only people who will tell you when you're getting off the tracks a little. Surround yourself with people who love the Lord, love themselves and love you, and you can't really fail."
Silverman hopes the impact on families goes beyond what they see on screen.
"I'm hoping we prompt a lot of dialogue between families, that this movie is a conversation starter," Silverman says. "At the end of the day, I don't miss the fact that this is entertainment - and I think we've made a very entertaining movie. But when the movie is over, and the audience reflects on what they've seen, I want Christians to say, 'Wow. I love God.' "
Copyright 2016 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for May 2016
Universal: Respect for Women: That in every country of the world, women may be honored and respected and that their essential contribution to society may be highly esteemed.
Evangelization: Holy Rosary: That families, communities, and groups may pray the Holy Rosary for evangelization and peace.
Steven Spielberg's latest film, "The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara," will tell the true story of how a six-year-old's kidnapping relates to Pope Pius IX, the crumbling of the then Papacy and how Italy was unified through the culmination of events. LOS ANGELES, CA ... continue reading
Annabel Beam was only 9-years-old when she fell down a hollowed-out tree and landed on her skull. Despite other horror stories in which spines were snapped and skulls were broken, Annabel emerged with a few scratches and a miracle: She was cured of a lifelong illness. ... continue reading
Star of the upcoming feature film, "God's Not Dead 2," Jesse Metcalfe opens up about his journey to God and a better life. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Faith is really important to me," expressed Metcalfe during an interview with FOX411. "I really discovered a ... continue reading
The film Spotlight, which won the Oscar for best picture on Sunday, is a courageous movie that is not anti-Catholic, the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano said in two articles dedicated to comment on the Oscars. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - Historian and journalist ... continue reading
New movie "Risen" follows a Roman soldier's search for Christ's body after His resurrection. Clavius, acted by Joseph Fiennes, must disprove "rumors" of a risen Messiah, but reveals a life-changing truth instead. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Risen's" website ... continue reading
films with an overt Christian message have been making inroads in the
nation's box offices. The film industry is responding to audiences who
want Christian themes in their entertainment, and even more films that
are Christian are coming to theaters ... continue reading
"The Young Messiah" is the story of Christ's childhood. Who was he? How did he grow to be the world's Savior? What must it have been like to know the Christ child? LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - On "The Young Messiah" website, it is explained: "Inspired by ... continue reading
movies make us laugh, thrill us and make us cry ... in the case of the
football film, "Woodlawn," the film's story on how a community is torn
apart by racial strife to later reunite because of God's love has
audiences standing up and cheering - and ... continue reading
faith-based film "The Pastor" is playing in 400 theaters tonight only
across the United States. "The Pastor" tells the story of a former gang
member, played by the film's writer Arturo Muyshondt, who turns his life
over to God and begins his ministry in a ... continue reading
breathtaking Castle of la Croix des Gardes, used to good effect in the
1955 Alfred Hitchcock classic, "To Catch a Thief" is back on the market
again after 56 years. Grace Kelly adored the location, with its graceful
Florentine contours. The owner of the ... continue reading