Christian movies are often like pamphlets. They arrive at your door with a smile and a message, then get tossed in the trash. Though most people don’t want a Bible lesson, especially if they didn’t ask for one, a new faith-based film is a step in the right direction. Directed by Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle, who did the excellent October Baby, Jesus Revolution presents itself as an even-handed look at the evangelicals and one of the biggest movements of the 1970’s.
Sure, the film is basically an ad for Christianity, but it is likely to win over people who don’t usually respond to this sort of thing. Whether you are religious or not, if you are at least interested in matters of faith, this has got to be one of the most intriguing stories of the year. For one thing, the evangelicals depicted in this film are pot-smoking, rock-listening hippies who spend most of their time at concerts. When was the last time you saw a movie where a bunch of Christians talked about weed?
For another, the revolution of the title was on every news station in America, the cover of Time magazine and the lips of millions of readers around the world. The film tells the story of one of those readers, Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney), a wide-eyed, straight-laced teenager who makes friends with a group of addicts. He initially tries their routine of cannabis and concerts but soon finds there’s more to life than getting high.
A charismatic Jesus look-alike preacher by the name of Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie) helps the Calvary Chapel in California gain flower children as followers, taking the 70’s motto–peace, love and music–and applying it to their Sunday service. (Unfortunately Frisbee’s true struggles as a queer person who ultimately died of AIDS are conveniently left out of the film).
Greg and his girlfriend Cathe (Anna Barlow) become part of the movement too, which grows exponentially as Greg does, and as he learns to grapple with his mother (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) and his doubts about God. The main appeal of these scenes comes from Kelsey Grammer (Fraser), a practicing Christian who turns in a solid performance as pastor Chuck Smith, and from the genial sense of humor.
Technically Jesus Revolution is a comedy, though it’s not laugh-out-loud funny. It’s still lighter than most faith-based films and isn’t afraid to poke fun at cultural stereotypes, including those about Christians. Chuck’s hard-nosed attitude toward hippies and their way of life is played for laughs and even scoffed at by the filmmakers. Much of the humor comes from this culture clash, and from Greg’s experience of becoming a Christian and a pastor.
Like the main character himself, Jesus Revolution has something to say. The protagonist teaches a lesson on leading by example and treating others with respect, which is something we can all learn from at this particular moment in time. There’s a specific agenda, sure, but it’s not one of those agendas you want to immediately tune out. It’s one of those rare lectures that’s worth listening to.
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