It’s worth applying the Hippocratic Oath when considering the quality, veracity and messaging of any “faith based film.”
“First, do no harm,” Hippocrates preached.
The angry, divisive tone of “God’s Not Dead,” “Left Behind” and too many films that ride on the backs of Kevin Sorbo and/or Kirk Cameron are just for the fanatics, folks who politicize faith and bend Christianity into what is widely considered “Christian Nationalism” and recognized as dangerous to a pluralistic, secular democracy.
Films like “Miracles from Heaven,” “Noble,” “Same Kind of Different as Me” and “Soul Surfer” succeed by personalizing faith, playing up the real world problems and real world relief people take from faith, downplaying supernaturalism and avoiding angry, absolutist Falwellian politics.
There is no “harm” in “corny.” Sentimental and idealized? Why not? And if the story is real-world based, a little “edge” is a welcome ingredient.
“Jesus Revolution” keeps that oath and passes muster in a lot of regards. It’s a generally uplifting account of the hippies and spiritual searchers who turned away from LSD and drug experimenting and turned towards faith, without giving up their tie-dye or VW Microbuses.
It was a brief moment in time — and a Time Magazine cover (in 1971) — as this film, based on Pastor Greg Laurie’s memoir, makes clear in the closing minutes. But Laurie, a big deal in California Protestantism and (documentary) film producing, feels it’s worth remembering and celebrating, and not just for self-promotional reasons.
In the movie’s 1967-68 opening, we meet Pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer), presiding over a dying California congregation at Calvary Chapel, tuned out of debates with his college age daughter (Ally Ioannides) at home.
The TV news is filled with Vietnam War coverage, Vietnam War protests and middle-aged reporters talking about kids who live by “turn on, tune in and drop out.”
Pastor Chuck preaches that “this generation is lost, aimless…a generation without restraint.”
But daughter Janette figures what Dad needs is to meet a real hippie. Lonnie Frisbee, played by Jonathan Roumie of the popular series “The Chosen” (He plays Jesus) is just a Jesus look-alike she picks up hitchhiking. But Pastor Chuck hears him out and takes his suggestion that “kids are searching for the real thing,” “sheep without a shepherd.”
That transforms Pastor Chuck and Calvary Chapel. Overnight, Lonnie’s friends and future followers flock to this Woodstock-by-the-Sea, barefoot and unwashed, looking for meaning and wanting to be baptized in nearby Pirate’s Cove.
Meanwhile, military school teen Greg (Joel Courtney of Netflix’s “The Kissing Booth”) is so drawn to hippie chick Cathe (Anna Grace Barlow of TV’s “The Big Leap”) that he finds himself at “happenings,” where Janis sings and LSD guru Timothy Leary speaks, praising the young people for their “relentless search for the truth.”
By the way, MAJOR “edge” and style points for including Leary and taking him seriously here.
Greg follows Cathe and her crowd into a Microbus, into mind-expanding drugs, into flashbacks to his troubled life and childhood with his single mom (Kimberly Williams-Paisley). It takes an overdose and a car crash to wake SOME of them up.
When Greg meets Lonnie, he is ripe for recruitment and definitely in need of something new. But he sees what others were saying then and still say about this movement and its moment, a generation swapping one “addiction” for another.
“What if it’s just another high, another drug?”
Co-directors Jon Erwin (“I Can Only Imagine”) and Brent McCorkle (“Unconditional”) add a reporter with the Biblical name Josiah (DeVon Franklin) to give their story a framing device, the questioning and writing of that Time Magazine cover story, and add a little diversity to the cast.
They capture the birth of the first big faith-based “Jesus Music” group, Love Song, serve up contemporary pop by America, Fleetwood Mac, The Doobie Brothers and Edwin Starr and try to weave the threads of the story into an era-appropriate hippy poncho.
But their movie experiences its 40 minutes in the wilderness as it loses track of Pastor Chuck’s story arc and epiphany, and leans on future Pastor Greg’s journey, which isn’t remotely as interesting. But he wrote the book and produced the movie, so…
The money moment here might be when the 60something preacher listens to the complaints of the church’s elders about bare feet and dirty carpets, and they show up Sunday to see him washing his new flock’s feet as they walk in.
Out of context, that’s a little weird and could be played for comedy. Grammer, bless him, plays it straight and it is simple and moving and Biblical.
Lulls aside, “Jesus Revolution” works in that classic upbeat California vibe way. It’s not any sort of breakthrough as a movie or a “movement” moment. But it makes a nice contrast to the religious rhetoric of today, the pricey Super-Bowl-on-Fox ads funded by shadowy figures who preach tolerance while funding hate groups.
Laurie and the filmmakers have the good sense to step away from that. They know that the Hippocratic Oath isn’t just for doctors, and their movie is richer for that.
Rating: PG-13 for strong drug content involving teens and some thematic elements
Cast: Jonathan Roumie, Joel Courtney, Anna Grace Bellow, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, DeVon Franklin, Julia Campbell and Kelsey Grammer.
Credits: Directed by Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle, scripted by Jon Erwin and Jon Gunn, based on the memoir by Greg Laurie. A Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:59
Viewers should ask Greg Laurie about his cover up of Applegate Christian Fellowship have YouTube channel about it beware!