The term “Jesus People” is one you don’t hear much these days, but it refers to what was called the “Jesus Movement” in the late 60’s and 70’s. In a nutshell, it was a phenomenon where teenagers were gathering together in record numbers for Bible studies, singalongs, campfires – you name it. But what made this movement so unique was the fact that so many of these teens were living on the fringe of society. These hippies were not your usual church-going bunch. Many were not accepted in traditional church settings anyway or at least they felt that way. Pastor Chuck Smith is credited for having a strong influence during the early stages of this movement which began on the West Coast and quickly spread across the nation. The film Jesus Revolution attempts to tell the grassroots story within 119 minutes and impressively does a good job at it too.
In 1966, TIME Magazine posted a cover with a black background and big red text that read, “Is God Dead?” It was that same magazine that posted a totally different cover in 1971 celebrating “The Jesus Movement” with an image of Jesus. The story was written based on the author’s observations of the events sponsored by Chuck Smith’s church over the past year.
Jesus Revolution begins by introducing a young Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney) who has just moved to the coast with his single mom, Charlene (played by Kimberly Williams-Paisley) living in a rundown RV trailer in front of the ocean. While she spends the night drinking in various bars and sleeping it off the next day, clean-cut Greg went to military school.
Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie) and Pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer)(Dan Anderson/Lionsgate)
Meanwhile, Pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer) and his wife Kay (Julia Campbell) are facing the fact that his church is dying. His only members, besides his teen daughter Janette (Ally Loannides), are elderly. With very little money in the offering plate, the outlook is grim. One day, Janette meets Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie), a spiritual hippie and brings him home to meet Chuck. She convinces her dad to listen to what Lonnie had to say – just for 10 minutes she says. Chuck does and the next Sunday (or soon after), Lonnie is guest speaking at Calvary Chapel along with a group of his friends cheering him on. Chuck is there with a suit and tie and Lonnie is … barefoot. The first Sunday was a rocky one, but Chuck is not deterred. He is convinced that Lonnie’s refreshing viewpoint and understanding of scripture is one his congregation desperately needs.
By this time, Greg’s life has gone from bad to worse. Now with no direction in his life and finding no relief from drugs, Greg and new girlfriend Cathe (Anna Grace Barlow) eventually cross paths with Lonnie and his followers and their lives begin to change. Soon, Greg is living in a group home with Lonnie and his wife and getting involved in Chuck’s church.
On paper, this might not sound like the most entertaining movie, but there are many layers to Jesus Revolution. The fish-out-of-water scenario alone is worth watching. The combination of these three men and their different personalities offers some genuinely funny moments. Not the cringe-worthy attempts at humor that we’ve all seen from older faith-based material. And there are some real touching moments as well including flashbacks of Greg’s relationship with his mother, Greg’s baptism and the moment when a senior member of Chuck’s church crosses the aisle to sit with his new young friends. The film also offers some heartache as well. Biblical truth is shared, but the story isn’t preachy. And unlike what you’d might expect to see, these three men are shown with flaws and all. Nobody is portrayed here as perfect, sinless creatures. It’s an eye-opening story for those who lived through it and for those who didn’t.
Jesus Revolution is directed by Jon Erwin (known for I Can Only Imagine and American Underdog) and Brent McCorkle (Unconditional) and based on the book of the same name which was written by Greg Laurie and Ellen Santilli Vaughn. The movie looks authentic for the time period without overdoing it. Yes, there are some interesting fashion statements here, but shown in a realistic fashion.
Kelsey Grammer hasn’t been shy about his love for this movie. He has appeared on TV getting choked up about his role and the directors of the film have said that the tears he sheds in the movie are real. Fans of The Chosen will be surprised to see Jonathan Roumie (who plays Jesus in that series) play a totally different role here (although, he makes a joke in this film that people say that he looks like Jesus). Joel Courtney’s name may not sound that familiar, but he is known for his work in Steven Spielberg’s Super 8 and most recently in Sick. As his character changes throughout the film, so does his range of acting. Anna Grace Barlow is equally good as the love interest. And a huge shout out goes to Kimberly Williams-Paisley. Here role here isn’t a huge one, but the Father of the Bride actress is really impressive as the Greg’s broken mother.
The Jesus Movement of youth began when a young man rose up to lead others. That story is still relevant. Despite cell phones and the internet, teens haven’t changed that much. They still struggle with issues of self-identity, substance abuse, finding direction as well as peace. I really hope that someday soon, they will have a revolution of their own.
Main image: Pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer) and Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie) (Dan Anderson/Lionsgate)
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