Movie Review - The Resurrection of Gavin Stone

This is the first feature by Vertical Church Films. Vertical Church Films is a production company founded in 2012 by James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel. Harvest Bible Chapel is a non-denominational, evangelical, Christian Church in Chicago. MacDonald founded this church in 1988. It has since grown into the top 100 churches in America. In 1997, he started a radio program called Walk in the Word, which has also grown into a daily daytime show on the Trinity Broadcast Network.

Deals with WWE Studios, Walden Media and Blumhouse Productions got the film a wide release in January in over 800 theaters in the U.S. for a couple of weeks. The week of its release, its screenwriter Andrea Nasfell published a blog on Vertical Church Films' website about supporting films in theaters. She seems to speak specifically about so-called Christian films and wanting people to support Christian films in the theaters more.

The fact of the matter is that there have been plenty of Christian films or films with Christian themes and stories that have done well in the box office. Those films aren't simply the ones put out by Pure Flix Entertainment, which is a company that nakedly tries to proselytize through film and does nothing but propagate this FOX News narrative of "War on Christmas" that falsely purports that Christianity is under attack or is in some kind of danger. Nasfell's blog post feeds into that false narrative. It also feeds into the false narrative that Hollywood is antithetical to Christians or that Hollywood naturally rejects Christianity.

Mel Gibson is the director of The Passion of the Christ (2004), according to Box Office Mojo, the most financially successful, Christian film in history. This year, Gibson was nominated for Best Director and his film Hacksaw Ridge (2016), which is about an evangelical Christian in World War II who takes his Bible to the battlefield, was nominated for Best Picture. Last year, Paramount Pictures released a remake of Ben-Hur, a film that features Jesus Christ as a revered character. Nasfell cited blockbusters like Transformers (2007), but some critics have noted the Christian-based themes in these movies. Michael Bay who directed Transformers was an intern for George Lucas who created the Indiana Jones movies, which utilizes tons of Bible stories. Disney even released The Chronicles of Narnia franchise, which incorporated many Christian stories.

So, the idea that there is this divide between Hollywood and Christians is false, but it wasn't Nasfell's blog post that hinted at this that is the problem. It's Nasfell's screenplay hinting at this that's the problem. Yet, it doesn't just hint. At one point, it draws a clear line between the two. It's not in a mean way, but it needs to be pointed out that this divide between Hollywood and Christians is absolutely false.

Brett Dalton (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Beside Still Waters) stars as Gavin Stone, a former child star who's now in his mid-thirties and who hasn't achieved anything that has gotten him out of the shadow of being a child star. He's otherwise known as a party boy and one night he gets wasted and trashes a hotel room. He's arrested and instead of jail time, he's given community service at a megachurch in his hometown of Illinois.

Anjelah Johnson-Reyes co-stars as Kelly Richardson, the daughter of the pastor at the Masonville Bible Church. She's directing the Easter play. She's a fun girl but she's a bit skeptical of Gavin when he decides to audition for the role of Jesus Christ. She's hesitant only because she's dedicated to the church and Gavin seems more about being a star and putting on a spectacle and not doing a true representation of Christianity.

Nasfell's script proceeds as a romantic comedy between Gavin and Kelly, as they prepare to put on the play. It's very chaste and safe. The two leads don't even kiss. Dalton and Johnson-Reyes have a sweet and charming chemistry that it works regardless. Director Dallas Jenkins has cast a good, comedic supporting group. Shawn Michael, the WWE Wrestler, plays Doug, a mechanic and biker whose function is a very subdued version of Dave Bautista in Guardians of the Galaxy. Patrick Gagnan plays Anthony, a wannabe thespian who's a fan of Gavin, and Tim Frank plays John Mack, a former Quaker and a bit of a poindexter who's unlucky at courting women. Jenkins also keeps the tone on point and the pace steady and breezy.

It's all lovely and it works effectively as a man not being converted per se into Christianity or swear Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior, but, as a man violating a commitment and learning not to be selfish. The problem is the stakes are rather low. The fate of a small play or whose cast in it feels rather inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Jenkins wants a light romp and given the parameters, he succeeds. It's just a few opportunities were missed.

Stephen Cone who is a Chicago-based filmmaker directed a film a little reminiscent to this one called The Wise Kids (2012). It too focused on a church group putting on an Easter play. Its overall goal wasn't to expose the iniquities or superficialities of Hollywood. Its overall goal was to expose homophobia. Cone was not critical of the church in that his film proffered that Christianity and homosexuality aren't mutually exclusive, a stance not necessarily shared by MacDonald and Vertical Church Films.

Both Dalton and Johnson-Reyes are very winsome. Neil Flynn and D.B. Sweeney as the respective fathers are nice touches as well. The one thing that Jenkins does well that Cone doesn't is Jenkins has a five-minute sequence toward the end, which gives you an idea of the Easter play as it's being performed. This means Jenkins actually mounted the play and really produced it. We never see the play in question in Cone's film. Jenkins really sells that it's a good play.

Rated PG for thematic elements, including a Crucifixion image.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 32 mins.


Popular Posts