Christian romance produced by Calvin alum comes to Grand Rapids

Declared the “anti-50 Shades of Grey,” “Old Fashioned,” a Christian romance produced by Calvin alumni, is challenging the way the media portrays relationships.

Opening the same weekend as the controversial film, “Old Fashioned” tells the story of a former frat boy and a free-spirited woman who pursue a traditional dating relationship in the face of broken pasts.

Gordon and Susan Toering, alumni of Calvin and Hope, respectively, spent the last 12 years building a film production company while he maintained his day job as an attorney, spending all of their free time on developing the script, scouting locations for filming and dealing with the company’s finances.

The vision for the film started with a calling to transform the film industry. In 2004, Gordon Toering and daughter Stephanie, a 2014 Calvin graduate, attended a film festival which encouraged Christians to make an impact on the media through the production of quality films that are different from what is currently available for viewers.

The theme struck a chord with Gordon Toering and after meeting “Old Fashioned” writer, director and star, Rik Swartzwelder, at the festival, the idea for the film was in the works. Filmed predominantly in Ohio, the film had an advanced release this past weekend in Grand Rapids, Mich., Orlando, Fla. and Washington D.C., and will be debuting at over 200 theaters nationwide this weekend.

In the past, Christians have boycotted movies, such as “Fifty Shades,” that they believe to be immoral, but with the making of “Old Fashioned,” sophomore Ryan Toering said, “Our parents decided to jump into the industry rather than stay away.”

Producing a quality, low-budget, independent film has been a challenge. “It’s been a slow process until recently,” said Calvin senior Sarah Toering. “Back in 2007 they had plans to get the movie done sooner, and it’s been difficult for our family. It’s been challenging figuring out how to get funds with a lower budget. After the 2008 economic crisis, persuading investors to get on board with the project was stalled.”

“A lot of people will write ‘Old Fashioned’ off as another mainstream Christian cheesy movie,” said Ryan Toering, “but I would say that if they give it a chance, they’ll really enjoy it.”

While the film is a romantic drama, it also deals with complicated issues like grace and forgiveness. “‘Old Fashioned’ is not your typical love story,” Ryan Toering added. “It doesn’t shy away from the characters’ pasts and is open to anyone who has a broken past. It addresses that and supports and lifts you up, because all of us are broken and that is not a reason for holding us back.”

While “Christianity is not in your face in this movie,” insisted Sarah Toering, it does incorporate the spiritual aspects of the characters’ lives into their relationship. “You can’t avoid the fact that there are people who live their lives with faith and that does affect relationships,” Ryan Toering said.

The Toering family credits their faith for the completion of the film. “It took a lot of prayer,” Sarah Toering explained. “It was a long process, listening for God’s call of when to move and when to wait. This past summer we were going to release it in the fall, but when we heard about ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ coming out on Valentine’s Day, we decided to wait to release it. It opening the same weekend has given it a lot of publicity.”

While neither Toering knows of anyone who is planning to see both “Old Fashioned” and “Fifty Shades of Grey,” they do have stories of people outside the faith interested in learning more about Christianity as a result of the film.

“Our real goal is that a few lives are changed by seeing the film,” Ryan Toering said. The film has showings at Celebration Cinema North and Rivertown, and, as Sarah Toering slyly added, “There are more showings of ‘Old Fashioned’ than ‘Fifty Shades’ this weekend.”