The Pretender, Part 2

Previously, on The Pretender…

Things start coming to a head when Frank “invites” Keith to go witness with him on the Rough Side of Town (TM).  “Invites” is in quotation marks because Frank is not taking “no” for an answer.  But when Keith gives the perfectly sensible (and, for once, completely honest) reason that he has to work (he delivers pizzas), Frank is forced to concede with a dramatic, long-suffering sigh.

Sadly for Keith, later that day, he very nearly gets into a fight on the football field, and Frank witnesses it.  For the sake of damage control, Keith drives his delivery truck over to the Rough Side of Town (TM) that night, where Frank is busily proselytizing to his former friends.

Frank’s old friends (only one of them, Tony, is granted the dignity of a name) seem like a nice and laid-back bunch of guys, by the way.  Frank’s proselytizing method is quite in-your-face, and they good-naturedly shrug it off, until Frank becomes frustrated and refuses to leave well enough alone…

Frank (who has obviously been going on for quite awhile): See, that was Jesus talking!  Those were his own words!

Tony: Yeah, that’s nice.  See you later, pal.  (Starts to walk away)

Frank (following):  Tony, you really need to look into this, man.

Tony: Hey, you get to Heaven your way, and I’ll get there mine.

Frank (through clenched teeth):  But Christ is the only way to get there!

Tony: Hey, Frank, I am sick of your religious garbage.

Frank (r) winsomely tells his friends about the beautiful changes in his life since he accepted Jesus into his heart.

 Things degenerate quickly, and they almost begin to fight, but Keith drives up in his pizza delivery truck and breaks it up.  Frank is still way pissed off, and Keith tells him to walk it off while he talks Tony down.  Once Frank is out of earshot, it is revealed that the whole almost-fight was a setup, with Keith bribing the guys with pizza to “get crazy.”

And boy, is this scene badly staged and badly scripted.  Because it isn’t Tony who escalates things.  It is Frank, who refuses to let Tony end the conversation and walk away, then accuses Tony of “turning on him,” then wags a finger in his face, and continuously invades his personal space (Tony very gently pushes him back at least twice, then Frank jumps right back up to him again).

Boy, sure is good for Frank that he became a Christian two years ago, eh?  Because otherwise he wouldn’t be able to alienate and offend all of his friends.

Still!  I must admit that there are two nice touches here.

Nice touch #1: As Keith holds him back, Tony yells a few “jesus freak” insults at Frank…while trying to suppress a grin.  Whether by accident or design, it works.

Nice touch #2: Tony says that for all the effort Keith is putting into this, Dana must be “some chick.”  Keith nods immediately, “Yeah, she’s worth the effort.”  And yes, nice!  Another little hint that it is worth it to Keith, that he’s actually growing to really care about Dana.

The next day, Dana hears of Keith’s exploits, and it only further endears him to her.  But Keith has already been planning their Dream Date…an evening alone, first taking Dana out to dinner, then back to his place.  Keith reveals to his friends that when it comes to guys, “chicks get stupid,” that he’s played this game before and knows just what to do.

Which…well…it seems pretty late in the game for Keith to still be spouting (with all apparent sincerity) his “bad guy” routine.  On a secular level, he has expressed a few times that he genuinely cares for Dana and likes her as more than just a potential conquest.  And on a Christian Film level, Keith has certainly never even hinted or implied that he is taking Christianity seriously, or that any of what he is learning to impress Dana is actually “getting through.”  Ah well, let’s see what happens on date night…

With this couch plus these pants, Keith can’t lose.

Dinner: A shared joke.  A nice little touch, as once again, Keith seems to be genuinely enjoying making Dana smile.

After: Our little manipulator has planned this date for a night when his parents are going out.  He then fakes a note from them, claiming a family emergency.  Keith and Dana relax on the couch…  (Artfully done, too: Talking the entire time, Keith gently plays with Dana’s hair. She leans her head on his shoulder.  All very cute and lovey-dovey.  From a secular standpoint, this is setting up for some nice regret on Keith’s part…)

Oh no!  Self-righteous Frank has once again ventured into the Rough Side of Town (TM) to confront Tony about the other night.  And I’m just glad for Tony that Frank doesn’t hang out with him any more.  The constant invasion of personal space and wagging of fingers in my face would be quite trying.  But Tony puts up with it with rather more good nature than I would…although he does let slip that Keith is “just after some chick.”  Oh, dear.

Frank to the rescue!  He tries the pizza place first, and when Keith is not there, immediately and instinctively realizes that Keith must be putting the moves on Dana at this very moment, and that he, Our Hero Frank,  is the only force in the universe that can save Dana’s virtue!

(Previously, Dana claimed that she intends not to “go too far” with any guy, Christian or not.  Yet somehow, both Frank and the writers assume that she now will, despite the fact that she had dumped a previous boyfriend (presumably, a Christian) because of their “difference in standards.”  Do these men just assume that girls are incapable of saying “no”?)

As Frank desperately drives around town and the Music of Heroism plays, Keith leans over and gives Dana a gentle kiss on the cheek.  Dana turns, both surprised and pleased, and leans in.  They…

Well, one thing you should know about Christian movies is that they never show the actual kiss.  Never.  They cut it out and imply the characters kiss, but you will not see lips touching lips in a Christian Youth Group film.  This is taken to comical heights in such films as Second Glance, but here it is actually fairly subtle.

Frank gets to Keith’s house just in time to thwart what we can only assume are the very beginnings of a make-out session.  Keith is (understandably) ticked off at the interruption.

Frank shoves past Keith into his own home, only to find a surprised Dana, cheerful and quite un-ravaged.  Telling Dana that he needs to talk to her, alone, Frank invites her for a ride in his car.  Keith protests that, um, yeah, Frank, we’re sorta on a date right now, but Dana good-naturedly (or spinelessly, however you want to interpret it) goes with Frank with the promise that “I’ll be right back.”

Oh, for this to be a slasher movie.

With Dana safely out of the house, Frank turns on Keith, revealing what he knows and telling Keith that “you’re lucky I didn’t say anything with her standing right here in front of you.”  Yeah, we sure wouldn’t want to deal with this situation and include the person most affected by it.  Now that the silly girl is gone, the menfolk can discuss things.

Or, Frank can whine in Keith’s face and Keith can make a few half-hearted denials.  Whichever.

Frank gets off a halfway decent zinger as he storms out to “explain things” to Dana:

Frank:  The Gospel According to Keith is over.

Not so bad, actually.

Well, we certainly wouldn’t want to clutter up this story with showing Dana’s reaction to the revelation that the boy she has grown to like and trust so much has been playing her from the start, would we?  Of course we wouldn’t.

That’s why the very next scene is after The Big Reveal.  Keith and his buddies are once again scoping out the girls before school, when along comes Dana.  She and Keith exchange one wordless Look: she, angry and hurt; he, sad and regretful.

No snark here.

And no snark here.

This moment is actually…well, it’s actually quite well done, dammit.  Kudos to the young actors here.

So of course, after that solemn and affecting moment, Frank has to run in and spoil things.  Again.

He confronts Keith at the lockers and lectures him:

Frank:  How could you pull a stunt like that?  What were you thinking?  What’s wrong with you?

All legitimate questions, mind you, but wouldn’t they be rather more appropriate coming from, oh, I dunno, Dana?

Frank then reveals that Keith “really hurt” Dana, who “really liked you, Keith.”  Gee, thanks, Captain Obvious.  Sure are glad we’re being told this now, when we were just shown that for the past half-hour and via the Significant Looks.  Best to make sure we all Really, Truly Get It, right?

Then Frank reveals that Dana “cried her eyes out” in the car, after he revealed the truth.  Again, thanks Frank.  I’m sure that’s not something private that Dana might want to keep from Keith.

Suddenly, Frank remembers that it’s the last few minutes of a Christian film, and changes gears so fast it makes your head spin:

Frank:  You were so close!  I mean, you heard all that truth and you were so close to salvation!

Um, Frank, one second ago, the hot issue was Dana’s feelings.  That issue hasn’t been resolved to anyone’s satisfaction yet.  Should you really change the subject before…but no, Dana abruptly forgotten, Frank wants Keith to “admit his sin.”  Keith’s response: “Maybe some other time.”  Heh.

Frank pulls the Hypothetical Bus out of his backpack.  Keith brushes it off.

Frank starts to stride away, then turns back and invites Keith to go bowling with the youth group.

Keith: Don’t you ever give up?

Frank: There’s always a possibility you could change.

Keith: Oh yeah?  And what makes you think a guy like me could change?

Frank: I did.

*significant pause, cue the Music of Thoughtfulness*

You changed, Frank?  Really?  Well, if this smug, self-righteous, in-your-face prick is what you changed into, then I’ll ask Keith to stay just the way he is, thanks.

Once again, Frank strides off down the hallway.  At the last moment, as the Music of Thoughtfulness swells, Keith calls after him:

Keith: Hey Frank!  If I ever come to Jesus, I’ll come all the way!

Sometimes, the jokes just write themselves.

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Posted on March 30, 2010, in Movies, The Pretender. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Wait, that’s it? No plot resolution, nothing? It’s just a story about how someone can lie about their beliefs and how pizza delivery can save you from the consequences of being a jerk?

    • The plot resolution: now that Dana is out of picture, Frank’s gonna make Keith come. To Jesus.
      *All the way*.

      • And how…the final line is a callback to one of their two-man “Discipleship Meetings,” in which Frank criticizes other Christians, then tells Keith, “I like to put it this way: If you come to Jesus, come all the way.”

      • XD, of course, how silly of me to not notice.

  2. In all fairness, I don’t think I mentioned that little phrase in Part 1. 😛

  3. Whoa, Keith’s got classic Manningface going on there, if I do say so myself.

  4. I really enjoyed this review…the photo captions were hi-larious. The whole thing made me recall some of the very discussions we had about these characters and their virtues/flaws when we shot the thing. Thanks for the thoughtful review.

  5. I don’t have my review for this one posted on my website, so I’m posting it here. You might not be interested at all in reading this, in which case I AM SORRY FOR BOTHERING YOU.
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    Considering the Christiano Brothers’ penchant for fear-mongering in their movies by way of warnings about the tortures of Hell or the evils of atheism, their early film The Pretender is a breath of fresh air.

    We start with Keith, the kind of guy you warned your daughters about. When the new school year starts, he and his friends scope out the chicks, determining whether or not they are worth pursuing. Keith is quite the ladies’ man, if you catch my drift. What’s his secret? Well, I’ll tell you. He finds out what they really like, you see, like this one girl liked art. Okay, so he goes to a couple of museums, studies up on art a little bit, and then begins talking to her about a couple of famous pieces, talk a little bit of the jargon at ’em. Before you know it, bada-bing-bada-boom, she thinks he’s perfect and he beds her and leaves her. It’s a foolproof process, and this year Keith has just the fool to try it out on: Dana.

    Dana is a Christian, and so Keith decides that he will pretend to be a Christian in order to get her in the sack. Of course, the words “sack”, “bed”, and “bada-bang” are never uttered in this film. We’ve got to keep up appearances, after all. Anywho, Keith’s friends are very opposed to the idea of trying to trick Dana. After Keither tells his friends about the girl who liked art and the girl who liked jazz, they say, “Dana’s not an idiot like those other girls.” Ha!
    Keither is undeterred, and pairs up with an ex-friend of his named Frank. Frank used to run with Keith’s crowd, back when Frank was one of those immoral young lads that cares about nothing but sex drugs and rock’n’roll. But since then, Frank has found Je-sus and gotten right with God… so of course Keith is looking for advice on how to pretend to be Christian from Frank.

    As an aside, I couldn’t stop thinking of the line from M*A*S*H: “Frank, did you crack up over here or were you on this religious kick back at home?”

    This Frank cracked up at home. And because all you need is facade of sincerity to be a good Christian, Keith easily convinces Frank of his sudden change of heart. And before long, he has convinced Dana of the same. He’ll meet with Frank after school, get a few choice quotes or verses to repeat with Dana, and he seems like he’s the model of upright Christianhood.
    Amazing how easy it is, ain’t it? In fact, Keith keeps mentioning just how easy it is to be a Christian. “It’s not hard,” he tells his friends, “all you gotta do is learn a couple Bible verses and stay out of trouble.” Or at least don’t get caught. When Keith manages to fool an entire congregation into thinking he is revved up for the lord aw-mighty Je-sus the Christ, he even says that he’s thinking of becoming a preacher because of how easy it is just to fake it.

    Maybe that’s the point of the movie, then. Maybe The Pretender is just as sinister as any of the Christianos’ other films. What sounds to me (a rationalist and materialist) like poorly-written lines that accidentally make fun of religion, may actually be intended to scare the Christian viewers into distrusting even their own blood brothers. After all, anybody could be lying to you. Anybody could be just trying to get into your pants… even your own priest.

    Yes, I’ll take any opportunity to make a joke, no matter how easy it is.

    NOT THAT YOU ARE EVER GOING TO WATCH THIS MOVIE, BUT THERE ARE SPOILERS BELOW…

    How do you suppose a movie about a guy who pretends to be a Christian will end? You’re probably expecting that Keith will see the errors of his ways, actually find a relationship with Je-sus the Christ, and become the great Christian that he has been pretending to be all along, right? I know that’s what I was thinking. Boy, what I surprised by what actually happened…

    Frank finds that Keith has been lying to Dana and is intent on intervening in his, ahem, best-laid plans. He rushes as quickly as he can to Keith’s house before Keith has the opportunity to, ahem, have wild and unholy sex-before-marriage with the innocent Dana (who, need I remind you, is NOT an idiot like those other girls!). When Frank arrives at Keith’s house, Keith has actually already worn down Dana’s defenses some and gotten in a few smooches. Is that kosher? Or did Dana just buy a one-way ticket straight to hell with that lip-smacking? I need somebody to explain all these rules to me better. Luckily, though, Keith has not yet been able to do the dirty deed with his lucky lady friend.
    Frank bursts into the house and insists that Dana jump in his car so that he can take her for a ride and, ahem, “explain” some things to her. She is a little bit too quick to shout enthusiastically, “Okay!”

    Fast-forward to the beginning of the next school year. Keith is still scoping out chicks with his buddies when he sees Dana. They share a brief glance. Later, Frank approaches Keith and asks him whether he feels sorry for what he did. “She really liked you,” he says. Keith is unaffected by this news. That’s when Frank gets to the real reason he has approached Keith: “Man, you were so close to accepting Jesus into your heart. If you had only given it all up and repented for your sins.”
    Frank begins to walk away. But before he can round the corner, Keith calls out to him — using a line that Frank had said earlier in the film:

    “If I ever come to Christ, I’ll come all the way.”

    Take a moment to laugh at the word ‘come’ if you must. Then, notice the very vital word if. This is one Christian movie where the protagonist is not swayed by the loving (or, in the Christiano Brothers’ world, vengeful) nature of Je-sus the Christ. Instead of being convinced that he has been sinning his life away by some stupid argument, this movie is content to let its protagonist say that IF he ever becomes a Christian, he will not be a half-way Christian. That’s interesting, because from what I’ve seen of Christian movies — especially those made by the Christiano clan — anybody who does not fall in line is often thought of as an enemy.

    Of course, while writing this review, I did come to the realization that this is likely supposed to be be a fear tactic for the parents who see this movie and aren’t telling their children about the people at church who SAY that they’re Christians, but really only want to get you full of liquor and tobacco. The intended audience of this movie isn’t surprised at how realistic and human the protagonist turned out to be at the end, no, they’re screaming in terror at the fact that he’s still a sex-crazed instrument of Satan.
    So I guess it all depends on your perspective.

    The Pretender is by no means a good movie, but for what it is… well, it defied my expectations. Whether it exceeded them is another story. But it certainly defied them.

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