Last night I had the opportunity to pre-screen The Resurrection of Gavin Stone. Actually, I had the opportunity last week, but due to some technical issues I didn’t get to until last night.
The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is Walden Media’s and Vertical Church’s latest offering in the ever growing faith-movie industry. It’s about washed-up child star, Gavin Stone, who has become a media badboy as an adult. After a particularly wild party, Gavin is sentenced to 200 hours of community service. He serves these out at a church in his hometown, where he has no choice but to reconnect with his estranged dad. Gavin also charms himself into the church’s stage production to get out of mopping floors, and takes the role of Jesus. It stars Brett Dalton (Gavin), Anjelah Johnson-Reyes (Kelly), Neil Flynn (Waylon), D.B. Sweeney (Pastor Allen), and Shawn Michaels (Doug).
When I was asked if I’d review a movie in which Grant Ward (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) plays Jesus and the Janitor (Scrubs) is his dad? I said, “Yes, please.”
The movie opens this Friday (Jan 20, 2017) in theaters. As a matter of full disclosure, I was provided an advanced screening from Inspire Buzz marketing. However, as I always do, I will give you a completely honest review.
First off, for parents: This is a very family friendly movie. No cussing. No sex. No violence. There is some very mild, almost imperceptible, flirting. The scene with Jesus on the cross is quite bloody, but it is obvious stage makeup. However, I could see very young viewers having a problem with it. Check out the trailer at the bottom of the review…in the trailer you’ll see part of the scene, and you can judge for yourself.
Now, if you think you’ve seen this movie before, it’s because you probably have. Over-inflated ego badboy gets caught and has to do community service in a small town, where he meets a no-nonsense girl who challenges him to become a better person, and it ends with his old life calling him back and the question…Will he leave the new life he’s beginning to love or go back to his old ways?
Sound familiar? That’s because Gavin Stone is Cars. And Cars was Doc Hollywood. Same trope…new spin. It’s a fun ride, but anyone familiar with the trope will easily see where this movie is going.
Let’s talk about the positives.
The Christian movie industry has been often criticized for glorifying sub-par productions and not trying hard enough to produce excellence. I completely agree with this criticism. I have often said that Christians follow the greatest creative force in the universe and have the right to be the most creative people on the planet. But Christian art in general suffers from the problem of excellence…something that is rapidly changing as maverick Christian artists, who are geniuses, are demanding to be heard.
Gavin Stone, on the whole, is one of the better Christian movies that’s been produced. It’s not without its flaws. Some sloppy directing and editing marred the first 20 minutes or so, though it ended strong. And some caricaturistic portrayal of Christians had me shaking my head (more on that in a moment). But on the whole, this is a solid movie with a solid performance, strong production values, and it is a great movie about second chances.
The biggest surprise of the movie was Anjelah Johnson-Reyes. I know Brett Dalton was supposed to be the “big name” draw of this movie, but Johnson-Reyes is the real star. Quite frankly, she out acted everyone and came across as the most believable character of them all. If nothing else, watch this movie to see Johnson-Reyes actually portray a true-to-life believable Christian…something that’s rather rare in the faith movie industry. They either suffer from bad acting or bad characterization. Not Johnson-Reyes. I kept waiting for her to take a cheesy turn, but nope. The character stayed genuine to the very end.
Now a couple of negatives.
There is a scene where Gavin is auditioning for the church play. He’s telling his “Christian testimony,” obviously making it up as he’s going just so he can get the part. The Christian audience members watching were all nodding their heads and amen-ing and smiling…and I’m like WHAT?? Then we see Johnson-Reyes’s character Kelly, and she’s obviously not buying it. Which is good, because that’s how a NORMAL person would have reacted. I didn’t buy it, Kelly didn’t buy it, and I didn’t buy the audience actually buying it. It wasn’t believable, it was a caricature of Christians that says we’ll believe anything if someone simply recites the right words with the right inflections.
We don’t see the entire audience in this way for the rest of the film, but we get three characters who fill the role of “caricature Christian” as surrogates for the rest. I’ll call them the three stooges. The three stooges embody all of the Christian stereotypes you can think of, so perfectly that you can’t really tell the characters apart. Shawn Michaels’s character is one of them, even though he does have some very genuine moments later on and actually begins to stand out as unique from the other two. But the other two…honestly, they were the same character. Unnecessary. Not funny. And actually a little cringe-worthy.
Hollywood…stop it. Christians don’t act like that. I don’t care if it’s funny or provides a necessary counterpoint, it’s not genuine and it actually hurts the cause of Christians by making us look like morons. The character Kelly (Johnson-Reyes) WAS the characterization of a genuine Christian. More like her, please.
My second criticism is in casting. One of the ways that faith movies are trying to improve and gain credibility is by attracting bigger name stars. The problem I have is in casting someone who obviously doesn’t represent the message of the movie. It’s almost hypocritical to film a movie around someone who’s acting career and life choices have never reflected the message the movie is trying to share. Sure some people will praise Dalton’s performance. But when I hear him speak about Christ and Christian belief, it’s just not very genuine knowing that it’s not real to him on a personal level.
It was almost as if life was imitating the very art it was creating, in that Dalton got trapped into acting in a Christian film, much like his character does with the play. And maybe Dalton has had a change of heart lately that I don’t know about. Maybe the movie affected him. But as a Christian, it would make a HUGE difference if I knew about it before watching.
You may say, “It’s just acting,” or “It’s just a movie.” I get that. If you’re telling a story then good acting helps make a good movie. But faith movies are different, because they are representing the TRUTH of Christianity. It’s not just a story. It’s real to us. It needs to be represented well, and it makes a difference if the person chosen to represent it actually believes it.
Recently, Joseph Fiennes was cast to play Michael Jackson. A caucasian man playing a black man. The production came under heavy criticism. The African American population doesn’t want to see a white man playing one of their heroes.
It’s the same thing.
I don’t want to see secular actors representing my faith and talking about my Christ. I want to see people who truly believe doing this. There are some amazing actors in the Christian community, Johnson-Reyes for example…who stole the movie from Dalton. Hollywood just needs to stop trying to pad their movies with names and find the real talent in the faith community.
And then make a good movie.
Gavin Stone is almost there…better than most, actually. But there’s still some work to do. Go see it and decide for yourself.