You say you want a Revolution?
As Easter approaches, theatres often become pulpits as an increasing number of faith-based products arrive at the multiplex. To those outside the church, it may seem odd but the reality is that many of these types of films make surprising amounts of money, especially considering their limited budgets. These films usually include one or more sermons or scenes of conversion, feature family-friendly content and are generally designed either inspire audiences or engage spiritual conversations. Admittedly, they vary in quality but they usually hit their targets in order to fit into the ‘box’.
But every now and then, one comes along that challenges that mold. This year, that film is Jesus Revolution.
Based on a true story, Jesus Revolution tells the story of Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney). He’s a young man looking for answers in a crazy world. But Laurie’s life begins to change after he meets Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie). Lonnie is a charming hippie who wants to share the love of Jesus around the world. Partnering with Pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer), Frisbee’s charismatic lessons on love and forgiveness begins to catch fire in the community. This causes a spiritual revival that shocked America in the 1970s.
Directed by Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkie, Jesus Revolution is an earnest film that wears its heart on its sleeve. Leading Revolution is an enthusiastic performance by Courtney. It is a faith-based product that is designed to create questions about faith, God and the world. Admittedly, these sorts of faith-based products often speak to the church crowd. Those films often point out the importance of engaging the spiritual realm in a broken world. However, in doing so, they also often struggle to find a balance between depicting genuine spiritual renewal over forced ‘sermons’ in the script. Surprisingly, Revolution does this fairly well in moments. It offers sincerity in moments that other films of this nature do not always accomplish. (Though, to be fair, there are also moments where it feels artificial as well.)
But admittedly, what’s most interesting about this Jesus Revolution though is the fact that it doesn’t entirely push all of its spiritual chips on the table. The film firmly stands on its beliefs. But it’s also willing to expose some of the dark side of church leadership. Themes of arrogance, pride and keeping things ‘the way they’re supposed to be’ infect the world behind the pulpit and they are on display here. In some ways, this, to the faith-based community, becomes their version of The Social Network. While the films are very different in tone and quality, Revolution manages to highlight similar issues of toxicity and power as the Oscar-winner did over a decade ago.
Although there may be those that feel that this harms the message of the film, this level of honesty actually elevates the material. Oftentimes, in faith-based films, church life is presented in such a way that it seems flawless, guaranteeing a better life. But, in doing so, the film often loses any sense of authenticity. By highlighting the potential for flaws behind the scenes, Revolution reminds the viewer of the humanity of its leaders.
Coming at a time when church scandals rock the news cycle almost daily, this admission feels current and very much needed, especially from a faith-based product. I don’t want to give any spoilers. All I can write is that this allows the film to begin to process what it means to pick up the pieces and speak to injustice without losing the core of the message that they preach. This is the sort of ‘messy’ Gospel message that Revolution speaks of…. And it will likely make many within the church uncomfortable as a result.
And it probably should.
But therein lies the biggest question of Jesus Revolution: who is the film’s target audience? On the one hand, the film offers a clear conversation about of the sort of hope that spiritual renewal can offer. Justice, acceptance and freedom are all shown to be positive markers of this Jesus Revolution, presenting its invitation to those outside the church to see what it’s all about. (In fact, the film even offers an ‘alter call’ after the credits roll, inviting people to join the church).
At the same time, it also exposes the markers of toxicity that mar the church, especially amongst charismatic leaders. This Revolution isn’t a cult. However, there are times when the film makes you wonder about the quality of its direction. These sorts of revelations generally don’t sit well with the faith-based crowd. And yet, they often speak to those who have left the church due to frustration or trauma.
So, no. As an openly faith-based product, Jesus Revolution isn’t going to be for everyone. Backed by the real Laurie himself, this is a film that knows what it believes and wants you to agree. But, with its openness about problems behind the pulpit, this is also a story that doesn’t fit the traditional mold for this type of product either. As a result, despite its obvious flaws, those open conversations may be what makes this Revolution more meaningful.
Jesus Revolution is available in theatres on Friday, February 24th, 2023.
- Release Date: 2/24/2023