“Wayward: The Prodigal Son” is the latest Bible story on the big screen. With limited opening weekend screenings of the film in Northern California, I made sure to arrive early. However, with ten minutes until showtime, only five of us sat in the audience: my family of three and and a older couple in the back. A middle-aged couple, one of whom wore a silver cross on his shirt, snuck in right as the previews began.
“Wayward” is a modern-day retelling of the of famous parable of the son who asked his the father for part of his inheritance early. In the biblical account, the father obliges, and his son takes the money and squanders it in a distant country before finally returning back to his father’s estate. His father welcomes him with open arms, much to the disgust of the eldest brother who had remained faithfully by his father’s side. The father chastises the eldest brother saying: “But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:32 NIV)
The film adaptation told the story of two sons who worked for their father’s prosperous company. Tyler, the younger brother, started the film by spending the night in jail as the result of a bar fight. After bailing him out, the eldest brother fired Tyler for his selfish, irresponsible ways. Upset, Tyler went to his parent’s home and asked for his inheritance of $500,000, which they agreed to with sadness.
With a check in his pocket, Tyler traveled to Las Vegas to increase his wealth. Initially winning, Tyler ended his first night in his hotel room with Annie, a woman he had met at the Texas Hold ‘Em table. When he woke in the morning, Tyler did not remember the evening before, but Annie told him he had passed out when they arrived back at the room.
Through a series of unfortunate events, Tyler’s winnings disappeared from his hotel room. He returned to the casino to win more, and win he did! He continued winning until the casino management informed him he could no longer play because nobody wanted to compete against him. Desperate to win more money, Tyler agreed to play an off-the-strip game. The game was rigged by the same men responsible for stealing from his hotel room. Tyler lost everything and gained an additional $500,000 debt that he was required to pay back in 24 hours.
Annie, the previous night’s prostitute, helped Tyler escape to her father’s farm where he hid for nine months. During his time on the farm, Tyler worked and attended church with Annie’s father.
Meanwhile, life back at home was not going well. Tyler’s father was dying from leukemia and Tyler knew nothing about it. His father and mother were desperate to have Tyler home, and even had him followed for a time to keep him safe. However, they lost track of him when he moved to the farm. Tyler’s older brother, Will, regretted firing his brother Tyler. He tried calling him, but Tyler had thrown away his phone.
Eventually, the debt collectors came calling. They tracked Tyler back to the farm after threatening to kill Annie. She managed to get a message to Tyler, and he attempted escape. Just as Tyler was about to get captured and killed, Tyler’s dad arrived, having gotten word of his son’s troubles. He paid Tyler’s debt and brought him home.
The story of the prodigal son is an important parable in the Christian community. But too often, religiously-themed movies like this one fall flat. The plot was the most wayward thing about the film. It felt contrived and cliché. The leads were portrayed as a rich, beautiful, white family, with the exception of the jealous brother, whom director Rob Diamond deliberately depicted as less attractive. From the family’s perfect skin to their unwavering love, the film offered no realism–nothing .
Like a lot of Christian films the acting felt weirdly melodramatic, perhaps driven, in part, by the corny, stilted dialogue. The best part of the film was a beautiful interlude depicting time passing on the farm and back home, set to music without dialogue. Despite Rob Diamond’s best shot at making something significant out of the Prodigal narrative, “Wayward” left me disappointed.
For a listing of showtimes and locations, click here.
Rachel Logan is a writing intern for Spectrum.