Jesus Revolution is a fantastic film about a period of time that came before me. I find that biopics of the 50s-70s are some of my favourite films and Jesus Revolution fits into that period – taking place in the late 60s and early 70s. More specifically, it comes from the period of time between two famous TIME Magazine covers – the 1966 ‘Is God Dead?’ issue and the 1971 ‘The Jesus Revolution’ issue. The film is fascinating and was an absolute joy to watch. It did, however, fall apart somewhat when I looked into the people involved and read about their real histories. This is when it became very apparent that Kingdom Story Company, the production company behind the film, specialized in producing Christian films as some aspects of the lives of these individuals were left out. When you watch the film, it feels like you’re watching some of the kindest, gentlest people around who had great relationships with each other. Based on my limited reading on the history of those involved, this was definitely not the case.
Jesus Revolution is based on the book of the same name by Greg Laurie, who is played by Joel Courtney in the film. It tells the story of Greg meeting Lonnie Frisbee (played by Jonathan Roumie) and Pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer) and how they created a Jesus Revolution. The story is fascinating and inspiring and, at points, makes a non-believer want to be a believer. The shared experiences stand out and everyone seems happy and full of love. Laurie is lost and finds a group of people who bring him comfort. At the same time, Frisbee meets Smith and the two, coming from opposite ends of the Christian spectrum, find common ground and a way to bring religion to a new generation of individuals. Through this new group of friends, Greg Laurie ultimately meets Lonnie Frisbee and becomes actively involved in the church. As the movie progresses, we get to see how Laurie becomes the man he is today, how religion is revitalized, and how bonds can be formed around the church and religion.
It’s not an old school Christian film that alienates and judges or is cheesy. It is heartbreaking. It’s powerful. It’s real.
Joel Courtney, actor
I agree 100% with Courtney’s depiction of the film. It was quite enjoyable and it was incredibly powerful and moving, even for a non-believer like myself. I found myself enthralled in the story and enjoying every moment of the performances. The cast were phenomenal and truly delivered outstanding portrayals of real life people. Sadly, like I said at the beginning, they made me believe that these were good people and that isn’t entirely the case.
When I watched the film, I found myself reading numerous articles about the three men involved, including their Wikipedia pages. As I prepared for this review, I revisited the pages and was surprised to see how much the content had changed. During the month of February, a small group of individuals made massive changes to the Wikipedia pages to change how many would view these people when reading about them. Some of these items change how you view the individuals and I think that context is important. Lonnie Frisbee, for example, was gay and eventually excommunicated from the churches he helped build. These churches, that are portrayed as nothing but love in the film, clearly have issues with loving everyone equally. Smith was among a group of Pastors who, according to the Los Angeles Times, claimed that 9/11 was God’s wrath for “homosexual lifestyles” and abortion.
This is not the Chuck Smith that we see in the film, nor do we get any indication that Frisbee was a gay man whose death is attributed to AIDS. Instead, Smith is shown in a positive light and a big part of who Frisbee was as a person was cut away and hidden from the viewer. This leaves me feeling very conflicted. The film was well done and was truly powerful (as Courtney said), but it shows us half truths and tries to maintain a positive view of the church. I guess this makes sense when you remember that the book was written by one of these three men, himself a senior pastor at a church that he founded and that the movie was produced by a Christian production company.
I do highly recommend viewing this film, but remember that you are seeing the story through the rose-coloured glasses of someone whose life was saved and drastically changed because of these events. You are not getting a historical view of the events, but the tainted memories of a single individual. That doesn’t change the quality of the film, but it does mean that you need to shift your perspective and understanding while watching it.
Jesus Revolution was released in theatres on February 24.
Movie title: Jesus Revolution
Movie description: In the 1970s, young Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney) is searching for all the right things in all the wrong places: until he meets Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie), a charismatic hippie-street-preacher. Together with Pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer), they open the doors of Smith’s languishing church to an unexpected revival of radical and newfound love, leading to a JESUS REVOLUTION that changed the world.
Date published: 2023-02-24
Director(s): Jon Erwin, Brent McCorkle
Actor(s): Joel Courtney, Jonathan Roumie, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Anna Grace Barlow, Kelsey Grammer