Nothing motivates like disappointment.
Christian faith films are difficult to watch objectively because they generally end one of two ways: a miracle by the grace of God or a tragedy accepted as His will. So there’s not much wiggle room when it comes to drama. Whether or not the person in pain recovers often has little real value because his/her suffering is a test for those who aren’t. How will the latter handle the situation with God’s assistance to become better people and realize there’s more to life than selfish gains? How will they grow in maturity and faith to allow the power of prayer to make them stronger even if as a crutch for which success will set-up impossible expectations for the future. These films don’t possess much nuance.
The fact of the matter is, however, that this is intentional. They don’t need nuance because they’re preaching to the choir. Only God-fearing parishioners buy tickets for this material (mostly as part of church group outings) because non-believers get nothing out of them besides a fun excursion to mock the tropes and roll their eyes at the absurdity of it all. What’s worse is that many also deal with sports because the inspirational desire receives two paths forward rather than one. God is now the force of nature that may take someone’s life as well as the force of good that bestows talent and purpose to those He lets live in their stead. The inevitability becomes happy endings because the “God is good” narrative is what’s being sold.
That’s why I must give writer Tim Ogletree and director Dylan Thomas Ellis credit for what they’ve accomplished on Round of Your Life. Hampered by budgetary constraints mostly made visible via its performances, they could have hit their checkpoints and called it day once their unambitious son (Evan Hara‘s Taylor Collins) of a golf pro (Boo Arnold‘s Carl) sabotages his freshman year high school tryout before reclaiming his drive to make the team and excel once his father is put in a coma after a car accident. The script is easy at that point: everyone comes together to pray until Dad wakes up just before his son rises to the occasion of greatness. But while Ogletree and Ellis do flirt with that outcome, they know it’s not enough.
Prayer isn’t therefore the endgame here—or at least not its false ability to enact miracles simply because you’re devout enough to warrant a personal “phone a friend” from God. They wield prayer as what it truly is: a community builder. The altruistic nature of those attending church groups and the like comes out to provide the family with the support that won’t actually help the dying. Because you can’t only have a movie where everyone is praying over Carl until something happens either way, having strangers pray for him becomes less important than letting those strangers tell his family (rounded out by Katherine Willis‘ matriarch Jenny and Ogletree as Taylor’s older pro golfer brother Tucker) they are. It’s about reminding the living to keep on living.
So they let Carl’s accident become a catalyst rather than the central issue. The false sense of blame Taylor holds from this situation is what gets him off the couch to achieve his destiny. There are many problems inherent to this considering the film utilizes all the usual conservative talking points like videogames rotting out your brain when you could be out doing something “productive,” but those aren’t issues its target audience will see. They also won’t notice the problematic messaging that Taylor and Tucker’s Dad’s tragedy allows them to meet “hot” girlfriends (their words, not mine); a flippant joke about how someone weighing “five-hundred pounds” can’t be attractive; or Bailey (Alexandria DeBerry) judging her past sexuality (“I used to do non-PG-13 things too”) as an unforgivable sin.
This is why Christian faith films are often at odds with their inspirational messaging. They look to champion those with God at the expense of those without by having a holier than thou attitude that lets them blame a lack of faith in others for their struggles. It’s kind of what happens here too as Mom, Bailey, and Minka (Katie Leclerc as Carl’s nurse and Tucker’s love interest) are all very religious when compared to the boys. They ultimately coax them to their side and in effect use this tragedy to bolster their numbers. I’m not cynical enough to ignore that they do this out of love or to say that it doesn’t work (Taylor sees a big change via this inclusion). But that duplicity is still there.
Thankfully it’s not a huge part of what’s happening, though. How Coach Wilson (Richard T. Jones) is drawn helps because he doesn’t let his faith stop him from being a hard-nosed educator on the green nor his power in that role to forget people make mistakes. How he brings these boys together (especially when Blair Jackson‘s Connor is present as both rival and mentor to Taylor depending on whether Bailey or God is paramount on his mind) is pure of heart and effectively portrayed. He’s not a pastor, but a leader guiding these youngsters to be their best selves. He has a sense of humor to go along with his tough love and an uncompromising nature when it comes to ensuring those under his care accept their responsibilities.
Responsibility must play a big role considering Carl is in a coma because a girl Taylor and Bailey go to school with was texting when she hit him. Don’t think that means everything will be doom and gloom, though, as Ogletree does his best to both write and perform for laughs whenever possible. His rapport with Leclerc’s Minka is a nice reprieve from the melodrama looming above even if their meeting is unapologetically contrived. So much of Round of Your Life is, though, so you either take it with a grain of salt or don’t. But despite having reservations with the type of film and the inherent issues generated, I can’t say I hated the journey. There’s an authentically bittersweet nature present that just overcomes its limitations.