“Jesus Revolution” is proof once again that Christian films have a significant place in the theater. Categorized as an indie Christian drama, “Jesus Revolution,” directed by Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle, premiered on Feb. 24 and has grossed over $45 million, surpassing all of Lionsgate’s post-pandemic films and recent box-office successes, such as Darren Aronosfky’s “The Whale,” according to an article by Sam Kriss for The Telegraph. The film marks Erwin’s second Christian box-office hit, after he directed “I Can Only Imagine” in 2018 alongside his brother Andrew. That film made over $85 million in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo.
The plot of “Jesus Revolution” revolves around the true events that inspired the TIME magazine 1971 cover story titled “The Jesus Revolution.” Throughout the film, there is a passive character on the sidelines (presumably the TIME journalist) that watches the events as they unfold, notes them in a notebook and asks a few questions of main characters here and there.
The historic revolution happened in the ‘60s and ‘70s and was called the Jesus Movement. Baptist Press describes the movement as “an evangelical phenomenon in which tens of thousands were baptized during spontaneous celebrations.” The movie focused on Lonnie Frisbee (played by Jonathan Roumie), who was one of the leaders of the movement, and how he met Pastor Chuck Smith (played by Kelsey Grammer) and was invited into Smith’s church, Calvary Chapel.
Despite the film being an achievement commercially, it succeeds in many other areas, raising the bar for the Christian film industry altogether. The production quality is top-tier and the acting is superb. The film deals with mature content that could easily appear cheesy, but thanks to the screenwriting skills of the director himself, this is not the case.
Entertaining throughout, even secular viewers will find themselves engaged in the storyline that does not try to push an ideology but instead focuses on character development and relationships — something relatable to all. A pinch of romance, a sprinkle of comedy, a splash of drama and a handful of faith conversations take this film from a B-level to an A-level production.
However bar-raising this film might be, it still is not perfect. While the film does an excellent job at illustrating a real event, the angle of the film is not clear. When Frisbee reaches the height of his fame, a montage begins of people and articles questioning whether Calvary Chapel has become a cult and if Frisbee is an egotistical fraud.
To continue the narrative, Frisbee is then shown as being fired and his wife admits that he can be abusive and tries to receive outside help. While I was anticipating seeing how the film would debunk these allegations — allegations Frisbee faced in real life — the film introduces the controversy and then drops it. Frisbee leaves his house, acknowledges his great friendship with another main character, Greg Laurie (played by Joel Courtney), and somehow, with no context, is on great terms with his wife again.
I left the theater feeling perplexed by the angle. Were they just trying to bring up everything about the movement and leave audiences to decipher for themselves? If so, why was everything up to that point highlighting the movement in a clearly positive manner? Why not dispute the allegations?
I can only assume the directors wanted to play it safe — and due to this, my ranking of the film in its entirety is reduced to 3 out of 5 stars.