In a Theater Near You: Unsung Hero


Your enjoyment of this film will likely depend on whether you were listening to Christian pop music three decades ago. I was a youth pastor at the time, so, sure, I took students to see Michael W. Smith in concert introducing DC Talk as his opening act. Unsung Hero features actors playing performers central to the world of Christian music in the 1990s. Rachel Hendrix plays a kind and gracious Amy Grant. Jonathan Jackson plays Eddie Degarmo (of Degarmo and Key), a benefactor of the film’s family. Joe Chambrello plays Carmen who isn’t very helpful. There’s serious nostalgia cred as the film opens, with Christian hair band Stryper playing at the Sydney Opera House.

That’s when we meet the central figure in the film: Christian music promoter David Smallbone (played by David’s son, Joel Smallbone). His promotion of Stryper’s Australia tour led him to believe he was set on a path to fame and fortune, so he invested everything the family had in his next venture: Amy Grant’s Australian, Lead Me On, tour. His wife is unsure about this venture; he ultimately loses their savings and their house. He pins his career hopes on a deal with Christian mega-star Carmen in America. At his wife’s insistence, they pack up their six (with one on the way) children and move to Nashville, Tennessee.

With his family in an unfurnished rental house, no car, and little cash, David’s deal with Carmen falls through. He falls into a deep depression.

David’s father in the film is played by Terry O’Quinn, the one “name” actor in the film. You may know him from the TV show, Lost.

(O’Quinn played the title character in the cult horror film, The Stepfather. In that film, a stepfather becomes a raging psychopath when his new family turns out to be less than perfect. That film was rated R, filled with much hacking and bloodletting.)

In this PG-rated film, the father acts out in different ways. Besides the initial reckless squandering of the family funds, he makes rash plans that endanger the livelihood of the whole family. He goes into a depression, not moving from his bed for long stretches of time. And he takes out his anger and pain verbally on his wife and children, particularly his oldest daughter who has hopes of a musical career of her own.

When the people of their new church in Nashville bring food and gifts for Christmas, David rages at their generosity, too proud to receive what his family needs. That same pride keeps him from pursuing many of the good vocational options open to him. He shuts down many sources of help, even from his own father.

I realize the filmmakers didn’t intend to make David Smallbone the villain of this piece. The title track of the film (sung by Joel Smallbone) says, “Strong like your father, even when you’re scared.” Clearly, they wanted the audience to see the man as a hero who made some mistakes. But to me, he never came across as heroic.

On the other hand, Daisy Betts as Helen Smallbone, the wife and mother of the family, is truly heroic. G. K. Chesterton had a saying, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” Helen is the embodiment of that philosophy. She encourages her children to dream and take chances. She is ever-supportive of her husband. She makes friends and takes on all challenges. 

It seems that it was her inspiration that led to the success of her children, who went on to impressive achievements in the world of Christian music, first with their oldest daughter, Rebecca St. James, and again when Luke & Joel Smallbone formed the band King and Country. Their successes were the reason the film was made. And maybe playing up David Smallbone’s faults provided the dramatic tension that was needed for a feature film. 

The film is worth watching because it doesn’t follow the idyllic worldview often found in other Christian films.

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There are 4 comments.

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  1. QuietPI Member

    I’ve never been a fan of Christian pop music, but I recommend the film anyway.  They strongly suggest that the film is very true-to-life, and you certainly see many common human foibles – and superhuman grace.  It’s an amazing journey, no matter what you think of the genre.  

    Rebecca St. James has a cameo appearance as the stewardess on the flight bringing the Smallbones to America.  Be sure to stay to the end, and see what has become of the family.  They’ve all done well.

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  2. Brian J Bergs Coolidge
    Brian J Bergs

    My wife and I went to the movie upon our daughter’s recommendation.  We liked it a lot.  There is a lot of Christian faith infused throughout the movie without being too preachy.  The kids are the stars of the show in my opinion.  There is no altar call at the end but hopefully non-Christians will be interested in what it is about God that makes these people tick.

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  3. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male

    Was Amy Grant still considered “Christian Music” in the ’90s?  Heart In Motion came out in 1991.



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  4. Eustace C. Scrubb Member
    Eustace C. Scrubb

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Was Amy Grant still considered “Christian Music” in the ’90s? Heart In Motion came out in 1991.



    She was a crossover artist, but certainly still getting play on Christian radio and promoted as a Christian artist in that market. As a youth pastor, I was aware of Christan parents being concerned Amy was getting too worldly and of some Christians excited about the potential of her as a missionary to the secular market. (To say she was no longer a Christian artist is like saying today that Beyoncé  is no longer a pop artist because she has a hit country song.)

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