Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle’s new historical drama Jesus Revolution puts into perspective how much society has evolved since the radical counter-culture of half a century ago. Back then, boys with long hair, girls with short hair, living together out of wedlock, and playing drums in church seemed radical.
That’s all incredibly quaint compared to the progressives of 2023. Even the most traditional church in the South probably now allows guitars and drums during service.
In Erwin and McCorkle’s film, we see a group of youths who are suddenly inspired to seek out religion after experiencing too many “good times” as hippies. Young people who were once outcasts seek out the religion of their parents’ generation. They remain hippies who still wear the same clothes and use the same vernacular, but have abandoned drugs and casual sex for Christianity.
The funny thing is, this really did happen by the time the 1960s ended. You might already know this because quite a lot of classic rock musicians eventually became Christians. Singer-songwriter Barry McGuire, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman of the Byrds and Richie Furay of Buffalo Springfield, to name a few. This period from the late ‘60s to late ‘70s birthed the term “Jesus freak” and the music sub-genre of Christian rock.
Jesus Revolution is based on Pastor Greg Laurie’s 2018 memoir with the same title about his early life in Newport Beach. Greg is played by Joel Courtney of Vincent Marcello’s The Kissing Booth movies (2018-2021). We get flashbacks of him growing up in a broken home as he transitions from teenage hippie to committed Evangelical.
Anna Grace Barlow plays Greg’s steady girlfriend and future wife Cathe, who is also a flower child Christian. Kelsey Grammer is open-minded traditional pastor Chuck Smith. Jonathan Roumie (best recognized as the son of God on Dallas Jenkins’ “The Chosen”) portrays hippie friendly pastor Lonnie Frisbee, both of whom mentor Greg in different ways.
As with most Christian-focused films, Jesus Revolution’s execution is a little too silly to either inspire or offend viewers with its message. Drugs are bad, sex without love is empty, God’s love is empowering, everything will be fine if we all get along. The period piece is stacked with cliché after cliché, trope after trope.
It’s also obvious Erwin and co-screenwriter Jon Gunn did not actually live in the ‘60s or properly educate themselves about the time frame and culture. The final edit feels like the pair just read Laurie’s memoir, watched NBC’s “The ‘60s” (1999), and then immediately wrote the script. A quick online search on the real pastors will also show Jesus Revolution water-downed their personal histories as well; although I imagine that was the intent, and they were always working around a PG rating.
I will say though, two interesting aspects are that we see Lonnie and his wife Connie (Charlie Morgan Patton) take a break after experiencing marital problems, and the former is accused of using his platform for power-trips and enjoying his role as a leader more than spreading the faith. You generally don’t see issues like this included in spiritual features, so there is almost an acknowledgement of the very real issue that many hippie communes were run by egomaniacal, manipulative men.
Ultimately, Jesus Revolution isn’t the worst religious movie I’ve seen, but it’s also not unique enough to stick with me afterwards. For ‘60s nostalgia with a good classic rock soundtrack, you might as well stick to Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump (1994), as well as Norman Jewison’s Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) this Easter season. And for as many predictabilities going on through this release, it’s shocking the soundtrack supervisors didn’t find a way to shoehorn in Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” or the Byrds’ cover of “Turn! Turn! Turn!”