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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Week Away is a camp-set Christian musical with messages about following rules, fitting in, and leaning on your faith to help with life's struggles. Expect frequent references to the Bible and God, though Jesus is mentioned specifically only once, when main character Will (Kevin Quinn) jokes about being surrounded by "Jesus freaks." The film portrays Christianity and camp as positive, life-affirming experiences. Even Will, who doesn't appear to have a religious background or strong faith -- and who questions how any God could allow bad things to happen to him -- appreciates the bonding and connection to something larger than himself he feels at camp. Sad scenes revolve around teens confronting the pain of losing parents. Will runs from a police officer and gets caught, thrown against a wall, and handcuffed. Viewers learn that he's been in trouble with the law repeatedly, has bounced between foster families and schools, and is about to be thrown in juvenile detention. Camp is his last chance, and the people he meets there -- especially best friend George (Jahbril Cook), George's loving mom, and crush Avery (Bailee Madison), with whom Will shares some flirtation, dancing, and a kiss -- change his life. Language is limited to "stupid," "sucks/sucker," "butt/buttocks," "Jeez," and "freaks."
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What's the story?
Troubled teenager Will Hawkins (Kevin Quinn) is about to be sent for A WEEK AWAY at church camp. If he can turn his life around there, he can potentially avoid juvenile detention, where he's otherwise headed following a series of crimes. After losing his parents at a young age, he's been in seven schools in six years and was most recently placed in a group home. He's taken to camp by Kristen (Sherri Shepherd) and her teenage son, George (Jahbril Cook), who treats Will like a brother. George has had a year-long crush on fellow camper Presley (Kat Conner Sterling). Will quickly forms his own crush on Avery (Bailee Madison), whose dad (David Koechner) owns the camp and whose mom passed away years ago. Can the camp have the life-changing effects on Will that he both wants and needs?
Is it any good?
This Christian teen musical looks to ride the High School Musical wave, but despite positive messages and fine performances, it's not likely to leave as lasting an impression. Some aspects of A Week Away's storyline make the film a little hard to believe, while many of the musical numbers lack the energy or catchy melodies of the HSM series. Quinn (Bunk'd) could be a Zac Efron double, and he has the charisma and singing chops to lead the cast, with TV veteran Madison (Good Witch) holding her own in the song-and-dance numbers. Both offer credible performances as teens struggling with deep sadness after losing parents. But as George, newcomer Cook nearly steals the show thanks to his combination of comic timing and vocal range. Most of the film's pleasantly goofy moments involve George.
Viewers are by now accustomed to teens breaking into song in the middle of everyday events, although the popular genre can't be accused of representing teen life very realistically. A Week Away carries an added layer of incredulity in the Christian teens' apparent innocence. While Avery sings about the pressures of trying to be "perfect" and finding one's "place in the world," even bad boy Will comes across as just a nice kid strapped with difficult circumstances. The dialogue doesn't clarify exactly what's going to happen to Will after his week away, making it additionally hard to believe he would so good-naturedly go with the flow at this camp. Still, the film tries to show how religious faith and communal experiences like sleepaway camps can allow teens to feel "connected" and part of something bigger, and there may be nothing that today's teens need more.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the depiction of teenagers seen in A Week Away. What makes these teens similar to or different from teenagers you know?
Do you need to be religious to appreciate this movie? Why, or why not?
What does Will learn about communicating openly and telling his friends the truth? How does that change things for him?
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