Synopsis: In the 1970s, young Greg Laurie is searching for all the right things in all the wrong places: until he meets Lonnie Frisbee, a charismatic hippie street preacher. Together with Pastor Chuck Smith, they open the doors of Smith’s languishing church to an unexpected revival of radical and newfound love.
Stars: Joel Courtney, Anna Grace Barlow, Jonathan Roumie, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Kelsey Grammer
Director: Jon Erwin, Brent McCorkle
Running Length: 120 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: Some movies can act as Trojan horses, bringing in messages you weren’t expecting or unplanned feelings. I’ve started several films assuming one experience but receiving the opposite. Thankfully usually a pleasant surprise, these movies make me edge a little further up in my seat, wondering what could happen next. However, some films work against the good tidings they offer, becoming problematic as you delve deeper into their origins.
I’m skirting around my issue with Jesus Revolution, and not very elegantly. I’ve been attempting to write my review for a few weeks but wasn’t sure how to approach it. I suppose we should start with the good, and that’s to say that directors Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle have turned into a far more agreeable and entertaining film than I had guessed after watching the initial trailer. After I saw an old-school billboard advertising it (when was the last time I saw a billboard advertising a movie? In MN?) I was intrigued enough to give it a spin, and I turned off the TV two hours later with a little more knowledge about a piece of history than before going in.
Something bothered me about it, though, and I couldn’t put my finger on precisely what. It wasn’t the performances, as earnest and eager-to-please as they all were. High-schooler Greg Laurie is desperate to find his place in the world, and Joel Courtney (The Empty Man) makes Laurie an engaging presence. Watching his journey from lost soul to identifying his purpose is one many can embrace and, I think, relate to. I didn’t even mind Kelsey Grammar (The God Committee) playing Chuck Smith, a pastor that teams with a hitchhiking hippie named Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie) to form a movement that would revitalize not just his failing church but make religion more welcoming to a younger generation that felt alienated during a time of war and crisis.
Eventually, I found out what was gnawing at me. The film wasn’t telling the full facts of the story that was allegedly about finding the truth.
I have to take a deep breath and move past some obvious personal (and fundamental) issues I have supporting a film about a church that evangelizes against certain minority groups and look away from the actors that participated in making the film. (Or should we? Maybe we shouldn’t.) Personal issues aside, to keep it professional, let’s point out that Erwin’s script is based on Laurie’s novel and omits essential details about the life (and death) of Lonnie Frisbee that could change how audiences (particularly the target audience for these faith-based films) viewed one of the first leaders of this revolutionary movement. By hiding these essential facts, the result is a skewed picture scrubbed clean of what the church deems dirty when Laurie and Smith both became enormously successful, even with the unfortunate downfall of Frisbee.
Look, I know these religion-positive films do big business at the box office (made for $15 million, Jesus Revolution has, as of this writing, grossed $41.5). Still, there’s something to be said about presenting the facts and letting intelligent audiences decide if the material suits them. Sanitizing history doesn’t change anything; it only hides it in some shady spot when time has shown it’s best to come clean from the start. Jesus Revolution isn’t a poorly made film, just an ill-advised one hiding under the guise of truth.