To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, Jesus Revolution is a Christian semi-biographical drama directed by Jon Erwin (American Underdog) and Brent McCorkle (Unconditional). Featuring Kelsey Grammer, Jonathan Roumie, Joel Courtney, Anna Grace Barlow, and Kimberly Williams-Paisley; the film is based on the book of the same name by Greg Laurie & Ellen Vaughn. The story follows pastor Chuck Smith as he befriends religious hippie Lonnie Frisbee and together they start what becomes known as the Jesus Movement in Southern California during the 1970s.
In Southern California, hundreds of hippies convene at Pirate’s Cove to be baptized in the beautiful ocean waters. Josiah (DeVon Franklin), a reporter interviews Pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer) to explain what is going on. Chuck enlightens Josiah on the experience of baptism and what it means. Josiah then walks over to Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney), who was sketching the meeting, talks to him about the movement, and asks how he ended a part of it.
One year earlier, Greg is getting ready for school in Newport Beach, California. He watches a news broadcast about the hippie movement before leaving his trailer. Across town, Chuck watches the same broadcast with his wife Kay (Julia Campbell) and daughter Janette (Ally Ioannides). Stating that he doesn’t understand the hippie movement, Janette tells him to not be so judgemental since he hasn’t met one. He then responds that he would gladly speak to a hippie if God sent one to him. After school Greg meets a hippie girl named Cathe (Anna Grace Barlow) and they strike up a conversation. While driving home Janette meets a wandering Christian hippie named Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie) and invites him to talk to her dad.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of faith-based movies. They’re usually cheaply made, terribly acted, and overly preachy. The most appealing ones are usually presented as a historical epic such as The Prince of Egypt (1998) – the greatest animated film of all time -, The Passion of the Christ (2004), or Noah (2014) or a post-apocalyptic thriller such as The Book of Eli (2010) or Left Behind (2014). Then there’s Mother! (2017) which is in its own totally crazy category. That being said, when the film is based on the life of someone involved in the church today it becomes more appealing to me. There’s something about the drama that makes stories better. Also, looking up the person to find out how much of the story is fact and how much is fiction is also intriguing.
The film is well-acted and not as fluffy and pretentious as the typical faith-based drama. Erwin and McCorkle do a great job not steering too far in that direction and telling a story that feels relatable. There are teenagers who don’t know what to do with their life, parents who don’t understand the youth, the drama of dating, drug abuse, and the occasional person who thinks the traditional church is boring. By adding all of these intricacies to the story it becomes more than a sermon on why the viewer should convert to Christianity if they haven’t already.
The cast is also pretty good with the casting directors Anthony J. Kraus (Assisting Venus) and Jill Anthony Thomas (Plan B) doing a phenomenal job at picking actors who closely resemble their real-life counterparts. Coming hot off the heels of playing Jesus in The Chosen, Jonathan Roumie gives a very complex and interesting performance as Lonnie Frisbee. Frisbee is clearly struggling with something internally and wants to do his best to spread the good word and please God. There is also some vanity to him where he believes no one else can do what he does. For some reason, the film doesn’t explore more about Frisbee and that’s disappointing. His wife makes a few appearances and there are a few conversations here and there but nothing too deep. Most of his personal life such as his homosexuality and death from AIDS is completely ignored in the film. Kelsey Grammer is also good as Pastor Chuck Smith. He plays a rigid yet likable father well. Smith is very traditional in his views but is open to talking to others and this is what leads him to open his church to the hippies. Like Frisbee, most of his real-life controversies are ignored in the movie as well although there is a small mention of Chuck thinking the world is ending.
As a main character, Greg Laurie feels like a forced piece of the narrative. Even though the book is based on his experiences during the Jesus Movement, the film would have worked better keeping him as a side character and focusing more on the relationship between Chuck and Lonnie. Their partnership and eventual falling out is the most interesting aspect of the story and would have made the drama more palpable if allowed more room to breathe. Greg meeting his future wife Cathe isn’t as interesting to me and feels like it should have been a separate story altogether.
With fine talent behind and in front of the camera, Jesus Revolution manages to tell an intriguing and educational story that is not overly preachy. I give Jesus Revolution a Solid 6.4/10. While much of Lonnie and Chuck’s personal lives are ignored, there are worse Christian dramas out there so it’s nice to see that this genre of film is improving in quality.