3 Day Test brings us a non-traditional Christmas film that is both funny and thought provoking. It has the courage to do what 90% of women probably want to do on any given day: toss the television into the yard, jerk the gaming systems out of the wall, and drown the iPhones in a hot bath. Okay, so the movie doesn't actually do any of that, but the concept is still there.
Martin Taylor (George Newbern) is fed up with leading an unfulfilling life. Isolated from his family and increasingly discontent, people in his life keep blaming him for not taking action. So, at the bizarre advice of his tin-foil-hat brother, Martin decides to take a 3-day challenge to see if he and his family can survive with absolutely no modern conveniences. No power, water, phones, or electronics of any kind are allowed. Though his family is reluctant at first, they finally give in after a dramatic encounter with the police, and the game is on.
Writer/director/actor Corbin Bernsen (25 Hill, Psych, L.A. Law) got a lot of things right about this film. Much like his work on 25 Hill, Bernsen gives a realistic portrayal of how people would behave in their given situations. For instance, Martin's wife, Jackie (Megyn Price), does not get on board with the 3-day test right away. Although relationship-oriented women everywhere know what technology does to their families, the attachment is nevertheless powerful. Proof: reading Kindle while children are trying to tell their real-life stories, texting while making dinner instead of teaching pre-teens how to cook, researching or checking email while husbands game online, and checking Facebook anywhere and anytime it can be squeezed in, while teenagers do the same thing in another room. The reality is that we are all addicted to technology, and like Jackie, most of us just want to get a latte and go Christmas shopping. Bernsen wrote this little jewel over twenty years ago, and though he adapted it to be relevant today, the core problem has been around since today's parents were kids.
Another thing Bernsen did right was hire professional actors. George Newbern (Father of the Bride movies, plus spots on a long list of my favorite TV shows) and Megyn Price (Rules of Engagement, Grounded for Life) make the characters come alive, believable down to their toenails. The children, played by Taylor Spreitler, Aiden Potter, and Francesca Capaldi also come across as authentic in their roles. Clearly, professional actors make a huge difference in the believability of a film.
Corbin Bernsen is making some pretty solid movies, holding true to the Hollywood model of good storytelling while meeting the demands of Christian audiences. In this film, he also targets a broader audience that includes children. Though the majority of the film addresses adults and their challenge to connect in a plugged-in society, the ending launches off into a series of slapstick events reminiscent of the Home Alone movies. To be fair, they do let you know it's coming through a pointed comment made by one of the characters. While this sequence will seal the deal for children in the room, adults may be put off by the change of pace and style of the movie near the end. It is a smart move, however, if you want to reach all ages in an audience. It certainly was the best part of the movie, according to my kids.
The only other thing audiences may not like is the scripture-quoting daughter (Francesca Capaldi) who plugs the major movie themes. She is one of my favorite characters, however. I'm not a big fan of the one-liners, but at least they give a context for it (she loves to watch "church TV," as she calls it). What appeals to me about her is that she's the first one to "get it" when her dad decides to reconnect with his family. Throughout the story, she's on his side and helps pull the others into the transformation. It's that first little grin while she's standing at the foot of the stairs listening to her dad that gives us hope in the whole scheme.
All in all, 3 Day Test will be a fun, family Christmas flick this winter, and I look forward to seeing the next film by Corbin Bernsen.
Talking Points with Kids
Ages 0-5: Who was your favorite character in this film and why? What did they do that you admired? Would you like it if you spent an entire weekend like this family did, with no computers, phones or places to go?
Ages 6-12: The son in the film illegally copies movies for his friends. When his dad finds out, he tells him a story about his own failure as a teenager. Do you think parents who tell about their failures make their kids want to do what is right or what is wrong? How would you respond to a parent's story of messing up when they were your age? In the movie, the son was very good with technology. Do you think his obsession brought him closer to his parents or farther away? What kind of dad do you think he would grow up to be if he continued that way?
Ages 12+: Many teenagers grow up being bitter that their parents spent more time at work or on their computers than having quality time with them. What do you consider to be quality time and do you think you have enough of it with your parents? If you had a weekend like the one in the story, what would you plan? The news caster in the story said that his parents didn't pay $100,000 for a college education so that he could cover stories like the dad's car getting hit by a toilet. While that's true, what kind of stories do appear in the news and what do they do to or for audiences? How can Christians who work in the news industry be a light in the darkness?