Film: Jesus Revolution
Cast: Joel Courtney, Kelsey Grammer, Jonathan Roumie, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Anna Grace Barlow, Julia Campbell, Alexia Ioannides, Matthew Montemaro
Directors: Jon Erwin, Brent Mccorkle
Runtime: 120 min
Back in the 60`s and 70’s when the US’s involvement in Vietnam faced a backlash and the era of hippies, Woodstock and peace signs were peaking, there were people known as “Jesus freaks” who slowly and steadily made inroads into that hip cultural phenomenon, aiding in its eventual dismantling. This film is basically about how that subculture caught the fancy of the young and the wasteful in their quest for truth.
Historically speaking the hippie subculture began its development as a youth movement in the United States during the early 1960s with its earliest antecedents traced to the Bohemians, with strong influence from Eastern religion and spirituality. But in the 60’s this cultural phenomenon was directly influenced and inspired by the Beat Generation, and American involvement in the Vietnam War.
The generation that rebelled against everything but was not always clear about what they wanted and had a fundamental ethos that included harmony with nature, communal living, artistic and sexual experimentation and abuse of recreational drugs, suddenly found Jesus and became a sub-cult of their own.
The story of `Jesus Revolution`, is based on a book by one of the leaders of the “Jesus freaks,” Greg Laurie. The movie obviously is a sanitised version because it doesn’t touch details like sexual diversity, substance abuse and instability, which the book covered. Also, it doesn’t question how the so-called ‘hope and love’ may not always come true. There is also nothing on the troubled years covered in the documentary, “Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher.” This film could have been a strong statement about dogmatic religious practice and obsolete narrow minded doctrine but instead, the narrative chooses to gently navigate the evangelical route to Christianity through music and adaptability.
So the narrative concerns itself mainly with Chuck (Kelsey Grammer) and the dwindling numbers in his Calvary church… until in the 1970s, when he meets Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie), a charismatic hippie/street preacher. Together with new convert, a formerly aimless teenager Greg Laurie they open the doors of a languishing church to an unexpected revival. Much of this film is seen through the eyes of Laurie (Joel Courtney), whose book inspired the film. At first he is just an observer drawn to Cathe (Anna Grace Barlow) but later, he finds himself drawn to the sense of community, purpose, and spirituality Smith and Frisbee are preaching. These youngsters were not given to being in the traditional mold of best dressed Sunday churchgoers. They lived simply and communally, inspired by leaders who were ‘charismatic.’
The banner headline moment for the ‘Jesus Freaks’ came when TIME Magazine covered “The Jesus Revolution” in its June 21, 1971 cover story. The reporter covering the movement gushed, “Their love seems more sincere than a slogan, deeper than the fast-fading sentiments of the flower children.” He goes on to say that as an outsider what startled him most was the extraordinary sense of joy that they were able to communicate.
This film has a modicum of fascination mainly because the topic is about that period of American history when a generation got hazed out by convoluted righteousness. It’s also quite superficial – in its quest for acceptance within the community of churchgoers for whom it has primarily been targeted at. The film hopes to revive the church movement with all its glory but there’s little understanding or exploration here of what it would take to keep the new followers in its fold. It also deliberately ignores the existence of larger segments of the hippie population who followed the tenets of various other religions. The narrative is rather bland and uninspiring in its telling as there are no real challenges here. Kelsey Grammer as an idealised version of Chuck Smith is gravitating and so are the rest of the cast who come through as natural. The cinematography does help make some inroads in terms of period and mindset but it`s not keen enough. Unfortunately, it’s the overall commitment to “church friendliness” over truth, that makes this endeavor altogether galling and rather unexciting.