Film Review – Jesus People
“How often does an evangelical get to share what it’s really like to be a Christian?” – Pastor Jerry
Mockumentaries are a dime a dozen these days. A side glance to the camera or a visible boom mic is now commonplace in both TV and movies. The viewer comes to appreciate the ramshackle production values. Hell, it’s part of the charm, isn’t it? As Christopher Guest has showed us time and again, though, the success of such a product comes down solely to the ensemble you choose to inhabit it. And despite (or perhaps because of) its lack of familiar faces, Jesus People delivers.
Pastor Jerry (Joel McCrary) is a loving husband and father with an unparalleled exuberance and love for our almighty father. He views the documentary crew, who have somewhat unlikely chosen him as the subject of their film, as an opportunity to impress his lackadaisical son and help steer him away from the dangers of our worldly times (aka rap music) while he still has a chance. See, Jerry was just diagnosed with a vague but potentially terminal illness and needs to do something before, as the film’s tagline abruptly suggests, “his teenager dies and goes to hell!”
Jerry hits upon the idea to form a Christian pop group, thereby proving to his boy that Jesus can be hip too. The ragtag group consists of 4. There’s Gloria (Edi Patterson), a former Christian singing star who fades from the spotlight once her husband is revealed to be gay. Cara (Lindsay Stidham), a dim but sweet hometown pageant winner with bigger aspirations. Zak (Damon Pfaff), an overzealous oaf who isn’t sure how to handle his budding attraction to Cara. And Ty (Richard Pierre-Louis), the sensible one.
With the guidance of makeshift producer Jeremy (Kevin Kirkpatrick), they inexplicably produce a hit, although he’s tweaked it just enough that it’s Christian message is replaced with an unsubtle environmental tilt. The moral dilemma this puts the group in threatens to thwart their fame.
And so on.
For obvious reasons, a comedy circling around religion is a tightrope walk. Go too easy and the cynical revolt. Go too hard and — well, you might want to avoid your Twitter feed. Jesus People, amazingly, strikes that tricky balance just right. Despite the gaudy title (pun proudly intended) and occasional dirty humor (one of Gloria’s singles is titled “I Love Getting Down On My Knees”), director Jason Naumann doesn’t have any interest in sending these people up or mocking their beliefs. As much as I enjoyed Saved!, it was decidedly divisive. If held up next to each other, only one could be considered a skewering.
A good many of the jokes don’t quite land but the humanity that pierces through every moment, no matter how exaggerated, makes Jesus People worthy of your time. Cross my heart.[vimeo 82323367 w=630&h=419]