The acting was excellent, and the dialog was often very witty and clever. The little girl in the title role was delightful and very talented.
But it shares the same flaws as every other Evangelical Christian movie: they put the story and the Art of filmmaking in a back seat to the Message. They lead with Jesus. They hit you upside the head with the Bible. They write as if they are afraid that the Holy Spirit can’t speak for Himself unless they condense the Gospel into a frequently repeated formula.
A disguised sermon does not make a great movie, especially when the disguise is thin. Rarely can a writer preach and still spin a great story. The best storytellers let the Way, the Truth, and the Life seep into their stories because those things permeated their own lives and they couldn't keep them out of their work. The message emerged from the story naturally and organically.
Tulsa was a sweet and charming movie, but it was as others have mentioned, cliched, predictable, and manipulative of the heart-strings. When these flaws are added to the Bible-as-Baseball-Bat approach, even a funny, heartwarming story gets annoying. The adage “Show, don’t tell” should be the mantra of Evangelical writers. Is your main character is a faith-filled believer? Then show how she acts in a Christ-like manner rather than have her drop Jesus’ name between doing things that are precocious, disobedient, and defiant in the kid-who-is-wiser-than-the-adults movie tradition.
Dear Evangelical screenwriters — prioritize making good art. Show, don’t Tell. Story first, let the Message hitch a ride with the Story. Read George MacDonald. He could preach and still tell a good story. Read C.S. Lewis. Read Dostoevsky. Watch Frank Capra movies. Watch A Man For All Seasons. They know how to tell a thoroughly good and thoroughly Christian story.
You’re stuck in a paradigm that says if your movie isn't explicitly about a character accepting Jesus as his personal savior then you have failed to make a movie that evangelizes. Consider the possibility that if you are writing about Truth, Beauty, Joy, Holiness, Peace, Patience, Fortitude, etc… you will open doors in the human heart that the Spirit is perfectly capable of entering.