"Jesus Revolution" made critic Alec Toombs laugh (a little), cry (a lot) and question his own faith or lack thereof.
Film Yap is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work please consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
I’ve got to admit I’m often reticent to watch and review Christian cinema.
I’m proudly agnostic. My Mom tried to get my Dad, my brother and I to attend a Unitarian church with her as a kid. We went occasionally, but Dad preferred the church of golf and my brother and I often opted to stay home and watch professional wrestling.
I dated a young, Christian woman in my youth who frequently told me I was going to hell. I put up with this way longer than I should’ve as she was one of the first females to pay me any mind and I likely confused lust with love. The experience left a sour taste in my mouth when it came to Christianity.
I’ve also always been under the impression that Christian movies are hella cheesy. I’d rather watch Kirk Douglas than Kirk Cameron any damned day of the week.
I watched, reviewed and largely liked “Father Stu” (here) last year, but when publicists reached out to me about reviewing “Jesus Revolution” (advance screenings are available tonight (Feb. 22) and tomorrow (Feb. 23) before the film opens wide on Friday, Feb. 24) I was initially hesitant. Then I peeped the movie’s trailer before a theatrical screening of the recent Gerard Butler vehicle “Plane” and was impressed by what I saw. I reached out to the publicist for a screener and I’m glad I did.
Lo and behold it turns out between “Father Stu” and “Jesus Revolution” that this proud agnostic is fully capable of enjoying Christian cinema.
The film focuses primarily on the loosely true story of three men of varying ages and the way in which they come together through faith.
Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney, the “Super 8” star now looks a lot like a hybrid of Emile Hirsch and especially Billy Crudup circa “Almost Famous”) is a military school dropout in his late teens. His mother (Kimberly Williams-Paisley, playing against type) is in the bottle and out of multiple marriages. Greg has the hots for Cathe (Anna Grace Barlow, late of “Snow Falls”) and the two dabble in drugs amid the hippie subculture of the early 1970s.
Speaking of hippies, Greg happens across the path of street preacher Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie). Lonnie, who looks a good deal like Jesus (you know … the white one) and claims to commune directly with him, takes Greg under his wing.
Lonnie was similarly, albeit begrudgingly at first, mentored by Pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer) after being introduced to him by Chuck’s faith-straying daughter Janette (Ally Ioannides). Chuck and his wife Kay (Julia Campbell) eventually welcome Lonnie and his merry band of hippie “Jesus freaks” into their struggling congregation, which sends more conservative parishioners for the exits.
Together Chuck, Lonnie and Greg spearhead a Southern California spiritual awakening so far-flung that it draws the attention of doubting Time magazine reporter Josiah (DeVon Franklin).
“Jesus Revolution” as directed by Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle and scripted by Erwin and Jon Gunn (based on Laurie’s book co-written by Ellen Vaughn) is a very good movie. The film is obviously seeking to evangelize and I could easily see it being successful at this aim. Marrying religion to the counterculture was shrewd back then and it still is. It shows Christians being Christian … inclusive as opposed to exclusive. It’s well-acted, well-shot (cinematographer Akis Konstantakopoulos lends the proceedings a slick ‘70s sheen) and has a killer soundtrack. I’ll commend the filmmakers for including depictions of drug use in Christian cinema even if it borders on corny (“after smoking just one marijuana cigarette …”). I’ll also applaud ‘em for showing the egos at play among Lonnie and Chuck … they’re good men and men of faith, but also really and relatably flawed.
“Jesus Revolution” made me laugh (a little), cry (a lot) and question my own faith or lack thereof. It likely won’t get my butt into a pew this Sunday or the Sunday after that, but it unequivocally moved me. Cinema remains my religion. I liked “Jesus Revolution” well enough that I now intend to check out the Kurt Warner biopic “American Underdog,” which Erwin directed with his brother Andrew … at least they got a convert on that front.