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‘Emily’ tells a unique spiritual love story


Ryan Graves and Kelly McCrillis are graduates of Whitworth University. They both now live in Portland, where they are struggling filmmakers. "Emily," which opens today at the Magic Lantern Theater, is their first feature. Graves directed, McCrillis produced, they collaborated on the story that Graves turned into a screenplay. Following is the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Emily and Nathan have a problem. She is a committed Christian who faithfully attends her Bible study group. Nathan, her husband, has lost his faith. What’s worse, he may never have believed but had convinced himself that he did as a way to please the woman he loves.

But now Nathan can no longer pretend. And that’s a problem, one that Portland-based filmmaker Ryan Graves explores in his first feature film titled “Emily,” which opens today at the Magic Lantern Theater. Essentially, Graves asks two questions: What can two people who care for each other do when one of the foundations of their relationship crumbles? And, going forward, how can that couple reconcile such a split in basic belief.

This is the fundamental plot for what used to comprise your average Sunday-morning TV melodrama. It’s also a situation that writer-director Graves knows first-hand. A 2011 graduate of Whitworth University, Graves took the plot of “Emily” at least partly from his own life. What’s special about his movie, though, is that it neither resorts to cliché nor wallows in self-involvement.

Most art is based, in one way or another, on personal experience. What’s important in the creation of art is how you explore the meaning behind that experience. And the strength of what Graves does involves not just the quality of his film’s production but how he works out the thematic issues he raises.

Shot in "about 18 days," using mainly two Portland-based actors – Rachael Perrell Fosket as Emily, Michael Draper as Nathan – “Emily” was made on a $20,000 shooting budget, with another $7,000 put toward post-production. Despite these constraints, which included filming in Graves’ own apartment, the film has a tight, professional feel, from its cinematography through camera work, editing and use of music, that many such low-budget projects lack.

And since the story depends so much on its two principal actors, Graves was fortunate to find Fosket and Draper. For her part, Fosket imbues the character of Emily with a quiet determination that becomes the essence of her faith: She will not give up on the man she loves. Draper, in portraying a man who is caught between his love for his wife and his need to forge his own spiritual path, never makes Nathan seem less than human.

And in fact, it is the humanity of Graves’ film that makes it stand out from the recent flurry of mainstream movies that probe Christian issues, many of which are both aimed at audiences already inclined to accept the religious message and ever so condescending to those who do not.

Graves takes us somewhere else, to a place where love is valued more than dogmatic belief. He never says that Emily and Nathan won’t continue to have problems. He doesn’t try to convince us that Nathan will never rediscover the faith that he has lost.

What he does do is pose a far more fundamental proposition: That a more realistic approach to marriage is not one based on rigid adherence to a theological doctrine but one founded on empathy and mutual acceptance.

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