“Jesus Revolution” isn’t what I expected and you might also be quite surprised. Based on the true story of the Christian movement in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Jon Gunn and Jon Erwin adapt Greg Laurie’s book to create an inspirational story that allows viewers to step back in time to discover a ripple of a story that became a tidal wave sweeping across America.
The era, as described by one character in the film, is a “dark and divided place.” While many of us may use that same phrase today, it was certainly fitting in that time period as well. As the Vietnam War raged on, protests dominated the daily news, and a new generation had blossomed in the form of “hippies.” “Peace not war,” and “Make love, not war,” were commonplace slogans seen everywhere and women were asserting their independence and equality. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie), a young man with long dark hair and brown eyes embodying the look and demeanor of what many imagine to be Jesus Christ, began to garner attention with his followers. Happening upon the sparsely attended church near Los Angeles lead by Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammar), the two find a common goal and build a new denomination of followers. This all-inclusive perspective is a new-fangled one and one that will change the destination of not only Smith and Frisbee, but all those close to these leaders.
Just below the surface of the primary story are several ancillary ones that allow us to better know Smith as well as Frisbee. Smith’s daughter (Julia Campbell), a rebel whose views differ from her father’s, is looking for answers that fit her life’s theories. There’s a sweet love story intermingled between Greg (Joel Courtney) and the girl of his dreams (Anna Grace Barlow), but her father does not approve.
As we watch the story unfold in precisely the way we knew it would, the characters actually evolve and devolve in unexpected ways. With fame, fortune, and most importantly, power, Smith and Frisbee find themselves battling their own demons of ego. The sugar-coated realities quickly dissolve to reveal humans exhibiting their weaknesss and recognition thereof.
Keeping in mind that this is based on a true story and the credits deliver the final tale, Grammer’s and Roumie’s performances create authenticity without disdain as we’ve seen in many other biopic about church leaders. Grammer’s character is looking at retirement just around the corner, but we see a sparkle in his eye as he sees a way to still make a positive difference in the world even if it bucks the norms. And Roumie’s smile and gaze makes you question his actual identity. To do this, even for a moment, and you know you have a meaningful performance.
Directors Erwin and Brent McCorkle are careful to never push the envelope with their actors. To do so would have created an artifice that would have turned off viewers, but under their care, we have an inspirational feel-good movie whose story was as meaningful 50 years ago as it is in today’s world.