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Seven Days in Utopia

September 3, 2011
Seven Days in Utopia

For the past few days, Roger Ebert has been tweeting that he would rather eat a golf ball than watch Seven Days in Utopia again. As I train my own critical movie-watching eye, I find more and more things I disagree with him about, but this is not one of them. I should have known it was going to be awful from the moment I realized it was going to be a Christian Movie.

Like I’ve said before, I really have no problems with the idea of a Christian-oriented movie. Whatever my personal take, I know many people for whom Christianity is a great inspiration and who are motivated to do some wonderful things. But for God’s sake — no pun intended — why do Christian Movies have to be so absolutely awful? I’ll give it credit for not being as overwhelmingly insistent as Soul Surfer was, but Seven Days in Utopia is terribly written, terribly directed, and indifferently acted at best.

So, let’s get to it: Luke Chisholm (Lucas Black) is Troubled. He’s a driven golfer on the cusp of a promising professional career, when he has a rather spectacular meltdown on the eighteenth hole of some tournament, which goes straight into heavy rotation on (major corporate sponsor) The Golf Channel. Of course, this crack-up comes as a result of a lifetime of pressure applied by his father-cum-caddy (Joseph Lyle Taylor), which has led to him putting more importance on worldly things like success at golf than on things like friends, family, and faith.

So while angrily driving away from the tournament, Luke is distracted by what looks like a cowboy planting a golf flag in a field. He then swerves to miss a cow, plows through a fence, and finds himself stuck in Utopia, Texas for a week. As luck would have it, though, Utopia is the adopted home of a former touring professional, Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall). And it seems all 375 of the townspeople are big golf fans, to boot. In particular, there’s Lily (Melissa Leo), the widowed wife of one of Johnny’s former students, her daughter Sarah (Deborah Ann Woll), and a local guy — Jack (Brian Geraghty) — who has a crush on Sarah but dutifully steps aside after some token resistance. Over the seven days it will take Luke’s car to be repaired, Johnny and the rest will show him what’s really important and put his golf game back on track.

This takes the form of a whole bunch of random activities, each of which is “a lot like golf”, to hear Johnny tell it. And from fly-fishing to impressionistic painting to airplane piloting, Luke is a natural at each one. But this is to be expected, since he’s one of the clearest Mary Sues in the history of cinema — a golden boy with (at most) a single tragic flaw that will be exorcised over the course of the story. But despite the obvious inspiration, Johnny is no Mr. Miyagi, Luke is no Daniel-san, and “See it, Feel it, Trust it” doesn’t scan nearly so well as “grip it and rip it”.

Lily is such a small, throwaway part that I’m surprised to see Academy Award Winnerâ„¢ Melissa Leo stoop to it. If her agents can mount a publicity campaign to get her an Oscar, surely they can get her something worth her time. Johnny’s character is thin gruel for an actor of Duvall’s stature; I can only imagine that he knows David L. Cook — the screenwriter and author of the original novel — from the Charlottesville area or something. And Woll’s turn as Sarah made me yearn for the nuanced, insightful writing of _True Blood_.

People keep saying that you should show and not tell, especially in dramatic or narrative writing. Seven Days in Utopia not only tells, but tells over and over and over again. It lacks any sense of subtlety or craft whatsoever, and yet somehow it’s based on a best-selling novel. But then, that’s not really very surprising; the target audience was people who find golf fascinating.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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