Fireproof shocked Hollywood in 2008 by grossing more than $33 million at the box office in spite of a paltry budget, little conventional marketing, and a cast headlined by Kirk Cameron, a former teen idol decades past his commercial peak. As the box-office returns for Fireproof and The Passion Of The Christ attest, it’s foolish to underestimate the commercial appeal of overtly Christian films in an overwhelmingly Christian country. Accordingly, Courageous, the follow-up from Fireproof writer-director Alex Kendrick, racked up more than $2 million in advance tickets before its debut, even without any Kirk Cameron-level star power. Courageous literally preaches to the converted, delivering ham-fisted messages of responsibility to the most receptive audience possible.
Kendrick confidently steps into the lead role of a police officer who is a doting father to his oppressively adorable 9-year-old daughter, but shamefully and inexcusably doesn’t want to go running with his moody teenage son. When Kendrick’s daughter dies in an accident, he’s predictably devastated, but he finds meaning and purpose in his loss when he vows to become a better father to his son and convinces a group of fellow police officers, as well as a kind-hearted, devout immigrant construction worker, to sign a resolution to become better Christians, men, and especially dads.
Courageous is essentially about fundamentally good, moral men proudly accepting the mantle of fatherhood, but its conception of good parenting is relentlessly and predictably patriarchal. A closing monologue that delivers the message of the movie in a shiny little box explicitly posits fathers as the visual representation of God within their families and homes. Courageous pays lip service to the importance of mothers, but doesn’t have much use for women, except when they gaze admiringly at the men they love while those men fully embrace their roles as household spiritual leaders. But it isn’t enough for the manly men of Courageous to inhabit the role of God at home: They must inhabit other untenable roles as well. A scene where a father takes his 15-year-old daughter to a fancy restaurant alone and gives her a heart-shaped ring granting him veto power over all her dates for perpetuity would come across as creepy even if the daughter didn’t later lovingly admire her ring in bed like a gold-digger adoring her sugar-daddy’s gaudy gift. Courageous deifies fatherhood and fathers when it would be better off treating its central striver like a flawed human being instead of a paper saint.