If you would’ve told me that a movie titled Jesus Revolution would’ve been anything other than a mass propaganda film about Christianity that may or may not have had some spiritual saving/awakening moment in the film then I would’ve called you a liar. If you would’ve told me it was from the directors of The Jesus Music, I Still Believe, American Underdog, and I Can Only Imagine, I’d double down on my previous statement. However, instead what we got was a well-conceived period piece about how one daughter’s rebellion against her father created a movement, that took the nation by storm.
The film focuses on Lonnie Frisbee, who is played by Jonathan Roumie who is brought to a pastor, Chuck Smith played by Kelsey Grammer, to reinvigorate his congregation and bring the word of the lord to the masses once again. His congregation is depleting because it is the 1970s, the hippie movement is in full swing, and no one cares what some old preacher really has to say anymore. Everyone wants to be a free bird and live their life with peace and love. While Frisbee and Smith definitely don’t see eye to eye at first, mostly Smith to be frank though, the results are undeniable, and Smith is left to embrace in Frisbee in a way that could be argued is the inspiration behind the concept of The Righteous Gemstones. However, with all of this newfound faith taking people by storm, it happens to affect Greg Laurie, played by Joel Courtney, (whose book the movie is based on) the most. While Greg finds his new purpose, Smith is fulfilling his goal of having a larger congregation, even if met with some adversary to how it occurred, and Frisbee is just spreading the word he believes to be true with love and peace.
What makes Jesus Revolution actually work is that the film doesn’t bash you in the head with religion, and is based in what seems to be entirely facts. I’m sure there are some fictional additives to the film, but the fact that most of it can be grounded by research into the time period and factual events making it a more well-rounded film. Instead of choosing to superimpose religion on its audience, the film chose to take the facts of the time and Greg himself and create a film that has a subtext of religion but infused with a religious undertone that sets the film and its events off.
Atop of the film finding that balance between religious propaganda and religious fact without being overdone, the performances in Jesus Revolution are what makes the film really stand out. Jonathan Roumie and Joel Courtney are both outstanding in their roles and create characters the audience can resonate with, even if their religious ideologies don’t line up, while Kelsey Grammer is playing a combination of Frasier Crane and Sideshow Bob Roberts, which works for the film, but it is best he is a side character as that narcissistic character wouldn’t bode well to the overall film.
Jesus Revolution succeeds in the fact that it doesn’t bash its audience over the head with an abundance of religious subtext and ‘miracles’ but instead roots itself in performances and characters that can engage the audience. Jesus Revolution works for audiences who are curious about what the movie could be that don’t want to be bombarded by propaganda or audiences who are aware of the time period and the cultural impact that Frisbee had on the time.