Friday, December 25, 2015

Yellow Day: the Good Man and the Woman in Church

In “Yellow Days,” Sinatra sang about “when the sunlight had a special kind of brightness.” This is a different sort of Yellow Day, but it still involves bounteous sunshine and a pair of separated lovers. Lovers might be too strong a word, but the man and the woman in question would make a perfect pair if they could only find each other again in Carl Lauten & G.P. Galle Jr.’s Yellow Day (trailer here), which opens this Christmas Day in select markets.

Half the film takes place in a Catholic Church, yet the balance of Yellow Day feels very much like an Evangelical film. “The Good Man” has come to Camp Grace hoping to find Monica. They had found themselves locked inside St. Joseph’s Chapel, It Happened One Night style. Of course, nothing really happened that night, but a connection was forged. Nevertheless, Monica abruptly disappeared the following morning. Only knowing that she is a regular counselor at Camp Grace’s annual Yellow Day celebration, the Young Good Man has come in search of her.

Unfortunately, Monica is nowhere to be found this Yellow Day. However, the Good Man has faith—and a spirit guide in a little girl who could be the spitting image of Monica at age ten. She knows all about Yellow Day, but she is still susceptible to ominous bouts of dread. When she appears to him, the film usually shifts gears into symbolic animated sequences, drawing heavily on chivalric Christian imagery.

By the standards of Evangelical cinema, Yellow Day is remarkably professional. The co-leads, Drew Seeley and Lindsey Shaw are not just competent, they are winningly charismatic. They develop real (but chaste) chemistry together. Ashley Boettcher is similarly polished and likeable as the mysterious little girl. St. Joseph’s Chapel is also a wonderfully warm and cinematic setting for their faith-based courtship. However, the supposedly expansive Camp Grace looks comparatively small on-screen.

Through the animated segments (passably but unremarkably crafted), producer-screenwriter Galle adds an allegorical level to the film that is admirably ambitious, but it often obscures more than it illuminates. However, the Catholic Galle falls into the same trap that ensnares most Evangelical filmmakers. He just cannot let much time elapse without “a word from our sponsor.” Yes, the film has a tendency to get a tad preachy, especially when on the grounds of Camp Grace. He is entitled to convey his message and it happens to be a rather worthy one, but it would be more effective he slipped it in more subtly and selectively.

Still, compared many overtly Evangelical releases, Yellow Day represents a significant step up in filmmaking game. Perhaps it is well-served by the Catholic-ecumenical background of its creatives. The good will generated by Seeley, Shaw, and Boettcher also goes a long way. Frankly, even for the defiantly cynical and/or agnostic, it is relatively easy to watch—maybe even pleasant. As a point of comparison, most viewers will be receptive to the next film from Galle and his team, whereas nobody in their right mind would want to see another John Martoccia film after soldiering through Death of a Tree. Exceeding expectations with its general sweetness, Yellow Days opens in carefully selected theaters today, such as the Awataukee 24 in Phoenix, with a wider release to follow on January 8th, including the AMC Empire in New York. Merry Christmas.