Courtship is a traditional word for dating, implying Jane Austen and movies made before the mid-1960s. However, in Amy Kohn’s documentary, the name and practice are one in the same for American Christians where dating and marriage are arranged – and first kisses saved for the wedding day.
A Courtship follows a year in the life of Kelly; a devout Christian since age 19, the liturgical dance instructor has placed her faith in God and her spiritual parents Ron and Dawn Wright to find her a husband. Christian courtship dictates that the 33-year-old live with the Wrights and their two daughters in their cramped Grand Rapids, Michigan home until a marriage is made. For seven years, Ron has pre-screened potential candidates while Dawn prays and consults. Men are perceived as the last word in these households, but this woman has a lot of leverage. A potential suitor is found in Ross, a fellow Christian whom the Wrights approve of.
It would have been easy giving A Courtship a reality-TV feel. To her credit, Kohn never goes there. With the exception of some very unhappy-looking young dancers who don’t like being filmed learning a routine, her subjects are comfortable in front of the camera. Even if outsiders don’t understand why, everyone in this community means well.
While there is no narrator, Kohn unobtrusively reveals what else her subjects believe in. A Confederate flag hangs in the rec room and both Wright daughters dream of weddings with Civil War themes. Social media is crucial both to this community and in Kelly and Ross’ relationship. This community regards older, unmarried, educated women from the outside as pariahs. These glimpses and unprovoked comments are as far as Kohn goes passing judgement on Christian courtship or the lifestyle.
The one person who does pass judgement is an insider whom Kelly views as an outsider. Her stepfather Bob comes across as a genuinely good person. Kelly’s Mom Linda is too emotionally invested, but Bob is thoughtful. During Kelly’s Christmas visit to her real family in Huntsville, Alabama, Bob pleads with her to stay where he will be her “advocate”. The filmmaker’s lack of judgement makes this the most loving moment in the film.
Kohn does excellent work in revealing how Christian courtship is similar to other ultra-religious groups who shield their women from the world. She also shows that sometimes God isn’t enough when looking for “Mr Right”.
A Courtship does not yet have a US distributor or release date.