‘A Week Away’ Review: Faith-Based ‘High School Musical’ Clone Sticks to the Status Quo

This oddly dated Netflix effort crosses broadly Christian values with Disney-demographic pandering, with cheery but soulless results.

A Week Away
Courtesy of Netflix

Say you’re a wild, wayward but ultimately gold-hearted teen who gets busted for attempting to steal a cop car, and your weary, exasperated but ultimately on-your-side counselor offers you a choice of correctional penalty: an extended spell in juvenile hall, or one summer of singing, swimming and mild soul-searching at a Christian youth camp. Which do you choose? If it seems a no-brainer, the achievement of “A Week Away” is to make us collectively wonder, after 90 minutes of aggressively wholesome hijinks, if juvie would be so bad after all. A purposeful, programmatic attempt by Netflix to encroach on both the faith-based market and the Disney Plus demo, this innocuous but character-free tuner shamelessly copies and crosses the formulae of “High School Musical” and “Camp Rock” down to the last, sequel-prompting detail.

What director Roman White’s film neglects to do is update those Noughties tween touchstones in any way, from its oddly era-neutral adolescent stereotypes to its anonymously perky song score, which owes far more to the chipper pop of early Demi Lovato and One Direction than anything currently blowing up on TikTok. (It’s up for debate whether these old-before-their-time kids even know what that is, though the film’s threadbare premise at least cannily plunges them into a phone-free zone.) White made his name as a director of music videos for the likes of Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood in the first phase of their careers, and brings that kind of bright, squeaky-clean showmanship to his debut feature — even if the songs aren’t as sticky, nor the choreography as nimble, as anything the “High School Musical” franchise had to offer.

If the Christian angle of “A Week Away” distinguishes it faintly from its chief influences, it isn’t pushed overly hard. God rates a namecheck only here and there in the vaguely inspirational, fully unmemorable lyrics, while the film’s general line of messaging — be true to yourself, make your voice heard, find your place in this world, and so on — can be found in any number of more secular but equally insipid teen romances.

The script, by first-time feature writers Alan Powell and Kali Bailey, offers us a mostly agnostic protagonist in the dreamboat shape of Will (Kevin Quinn), the kind of movie delinquent whom most parents would nonetheless be happy enough for their daughters to bring home: Sure, he’s done some stuff, but his soul is pure, his hair is glorious, and he carries a trusty acoustic guitar wherever he goes. That Quinn, a perfectly amiable presence, seems primarily to have been cast for his close physical and vocal resemblance to the younger Zac Efron underlines the film’s off-brand Disney approach from the get-go: From his introduction onward, most of the expected types and tropes fall neatly into place.

After his abovementioned scrape with the law, orphaned Will unsurprisingly chooses the camp option, packed off to a woodsy Nashville retreat under the watchful eye of kindly mama bear Kristin (Sherri Shepherd) and her sweetly dorky son George (Jahbril Cook). Before the first bouncy musical number is even over, he’s fallen head over heels for Avery (Bailee Madison), the devout good-girl daughter of the camp leader (David Koechner), and made a tepid enemy of rival alpha male Sean (Iain Tucker). Thus are the faint lines of conflict drawn for a narrative that, even by the fuzzy standards of the genre, is notably low-stakes: Will Will’s troubled past be uncovered, and when (sorry, if) it is, will his kindly new friends and love interest turn away from him?

If anything, the film’s cross-pollination with faith-based cinema is detrimental to its already minimal tension. Forgiveness and redemption are pretty much a given here, as the moral arc of “A Week Away” (the title refers to the camp’s principle of everyone being one week away from a life-changing experience) feels pre-written twice over, in the Bible and sundry screenwriting manuals alike.

Indeed, White and his writers make an occasional winking joke of the enterprise’s shorthand predictability. “That was a really quick montage,” George quips after Will gives him a “John Hughes makeover” that takes all of three seconds — and culminates in a brief fantasy sequence in which the kid croons an R&B-lite cover of Amy Grant’s “Baby Baby” to the crush he can barely speak to in real life. It says everything about “A Week Away” that this is what passes for hip in its clean, antiseptic story world — and is also the biggest bop here by a country mile.

‘A Week Away’ Review: Faith-Based ‘High School Musical’ Clone Sticks to the Status Quo

Reviewed online, London, March 25, 2021. Running time: 97 MIN.

  • Production: A Netflix release and presentation of a Monarch Media, Rove Prods. production. Producers: Steve Barnett, Alan Powell, Gabriel Vasquez. Executive producer: Vicky Patel. Co-producers: Roman White, Bailee Madison. Co-executive producers: Corby Pons, Traci Hagedorn.
  • Crew: Director: Roman White. Screenplay: Alan Powell, Kali Bailey, from a story by Powell, Bailey, Gabriel Vasquez. Camera: James King. Editor: Parker Adams. Music: Adam Watts, Benjamin Backus.
  • With: Kevin Quinn, Bailee Madison, Jahbril Cook, Kat Conner Sterling, Sherri Shepherd, Iain Tucker, David Koechner.