His latest offering, “Expecting Amish,” shows Director Gabai moving into new territory and he looks to be set on conquering it as well. No longer content with being an expert of one genre, he delves into the uncharted territories of romantic dramas. I’d have to say that his first step in this direction is one that should be applauded.
Before becoming an adult through baptism and marriage, an 18-year-old Amish girl named Hannah (AJ Michalka) embarks on Rumspringa in Hollywood with her friends. Rumspringa is a rite of passage Amish youth can experience before they fully commit to the way of life they will be embracing in adulthood. They get to leave their homestead, visit the modern world, and live there for a month without the confines of their strict dress codes and traditions being enforced.
At first, Hannah is only interested in being an observer of her surroundings. After much deliberation, she decides to attend a party and meets a DJ (Jesse McCartney) who she finds fascinating. The two become inseparable and realize they’ve fallen in love with each other.
Hannah has every intention of returning to Hollywood. However, she must first return home and tell her family she doesn’t want to continue being Amish. Things become even more complicated when she returns to find her fiancé (Jean-Luc Bilodeau) building them a house and a father who can’t stop telling her how much he relies on her. Does Hannah have the strength to choose her own path in life or will she give in to the fear of being shunned by her Amish family and friends?
Director Richard Gabai steps effortlessly into the world of romantic dramas and gives viewers of the movie a group of characters to root for and get emotionally attached to. He does a great job engaging audiences and keeping them visually participating in what’s happening onscreen. You sense these are fictional examples of very real and complicated life issues the Amish and people outside of religions deal with every day.
Like most of Gabai’s films, “Expecting Amish” features an ensemble cast that pours themselves into the characters they portray. AJ Michalka (“Grace Unplugged,” “Secretariat”) takes on the complex role of Hannah. Jesse McCartney (“Keith,” “Chernobyl Diaries”) empties every emotion you can think of into his character of DJ Josh. Jean-Luc Bilodeau (“Baby Daddy,” “Kyle XY”) and Alyson Stoner (“Cheaper by the Dozen,” “Step Up”) round out an ensemble group with more than capable talent for their individual jobs.
I like the way “Expecting Amish” doesn’t belittle the Amish faith or its followers for the most part. It doesn’t try to convince anyone that their way of life is a bad thing. The movie just shows that it might not be a belief system everyone wants or needs to follow. Even when there are scenes of members being shunned (excommunicated in a sense) it’s treated as a part of tradition and not over-sensationalized.
Although my own religious convictions do collide with some of what happens in “Expecting Amish,” its core concept is one I fully understand. As a Christian, I do feel you have to take into consideration how your choices in life line up with what the Bible tells you is right and wrong. It’s important to seek out relationships or lives that aren’t contrary to what you’ll find in scripture. However, if you truly take into account the words found in the Good Book, we’re not supposed to hide away in communes and avoid having an impact on the world around us.
On the surface, “Expecting Amish” looks like a call to shake off stale religious traditions and discover who you are as an individual. While that might be a part of what is being said here, there’s so much more. It’s about realizing what your goals and dreams in life are and not letting anything hold you back. Don’t give up your beliefs. Just take them with you into another world and apply them there.
“Expecting Amish” premieres on Lifetime on July 19, 2014. Check your local listings for times.