This charming Christian film is exceptionally well done. If other filmmakers would create movies like this, the Christian film genre wouldn’t be such a disaster.
Should I see it?
Director: Dallas Jenkins
Writer: Andrea Gyertson Nasfell
Starring: Brett Dalton, Anjelah Johnson-Reyes, D.B. Sweeney, Neil Flynn and Shawn Michaels
Rated PG due to mild drug talk and some fake blood
I’m going to come right out and write it: I hate Christian films. I loathe them. I didn’t at first, but over time they taught me to hate them. Before I took my site down on hiatus, I had seen innumerable Christian films, each more saccharine and embarrassingly unaware than the next. Reviewing Christian films is like being the taste tester at the worst cooking school in the world. Once you choke down one indigestible mess and think it can’t get worse, here comes another fresh steaming plate of good intentions gone wildly wrong.
Despite my contempt for the genre, I can clearly say that I loved this Christian film and strongly recommend it for both Christian and non-Christian audiences (with a caution).
The film centers on Gavin Stone (Brett Dalton), a haughty former Hollywood child actor. His hedonistic life lands him doing community service at a church in his small hometown. While there, he claims to be a Christian to land the role of Jesus in the church’s passion play, directed by Kelly (Anjelah Johnson-Reyes), the irritable pastor’s daughter. The two clash as Gavin’s arrogance invades the production. A budding romance, situational comedy and the obligatory (yet effective) closing salvation scene ensue.
This is a cross-genre film. It is a Christian film, but it is also a romantic comedy – a chaste romantic comedy. Director Dallas Jenkins (What If…), and screenwriter Andrea Gyertson Nasfell (Moms’ Night Out) mix these genres wonderfully. Gyertson Nasfell’s script takes the commonality of both genres and weds them. The usual structure of a Christian film isn’t boy gets girl, boy loses girl, but rather boy gets Jesus, boy loses Jesus. Here, the boy (Gavin) gets Jesus by getting the girl (Kelly). The melding of the genres leads to an impressively emotional final act. It has been a long time since I’ve seen so many people weeping at the end of a film. I didn’t mind you. Because I’m a man.
Another interesting point is how the play is used as a device to house the usual Christian film tropes. Gavin lands the role of Jesus in the church’s passion play because he is the only one available who can act. The problem, and the film’s hook, is that he’s not a Christian. Not only that, he is wholly ignorant of the Gospels. As he mimics/mocks what he has learned about Christianity second-hand through pop culture, Gavin is patiently guided by Kelly and the other parishioners. As Gavin learns how to perform the character of Christ in the play, we are also getting a primer on the actual character of Christ in the theater. Gavin interprets Jesus through his self-centered viewpoint and is constantly corrected by Kelly. This leads to the basic tenants of the faith being delivered in casual conversation instead of the preachy manner Christian films are known for.
This film is a crowd-pleaser and much of that is thanks to Brett Dalton and Anjelah Johnson-Reyes’ performances. The pair has an enchanting onscreen chemistry while also sharing a good comedic timing. The first act has the couple performing a fun double act. Gavin is the belligerent, self-serving comic and Kelly is the eye-rolling straight man. As the bantering continues, their relationship slowly moves from combative to romantic. In particular, Johnson-Reyes handles the transitions via Kelly’s cautious flirtations with Gavin nicely.
Dalton’s gives a strikingly natural performance as he fills in moments with familiar mannerisms and asides. For example, as he breaks character during a rehearsal to offer an idea to Kelly, he pauses to quickly reassure a cast mate that they’re doing a good job. Dalton’s delivery of these passing, small details imbue Gavin with an undeniable charm.
If you are looking for a break from the superheroes, reboots, retreads and sequels, this should be your choice. You will find a simple, quiet and enchanting comedy for the entire family.
The only caution I can give is to non-Christians. I fully recommend this film for all audiences. However, this is a Christian film so the Christian faith is going to be front and center. As long as you can handle that you will enjoy yourself.
Normally, I would take this space to pontificate on the philosophy expressed in the film. Instead, I want to write about the philosophy behind the actual making of the film.
The Resurrection of Gavin Stone isn’t just a good ‘Christian film’ it is a good film in general. This is saying something because one of the traits of the Christian film genre is that its products only survive criticism if they aren’t compared to other films. They can only be compared to one films in the genre. If they were to have to stand up to the same scrutiny as ‘secular’ films, they would get slaughtered.
The reason this film succeeds is that it is handled not as a Christian film. One of the identifiers of a Christian film is that the message comes first and last, nothing else matters, even quality. This is the central reason the genre suffers from such horrible productions. With this film, director Dallas Jenkins delivers the required Christian message, but he does so only when it serves the story.
Jesus didn’t walk around screaming His teachings in people’s faces. Instead, He told stories to get His points across. His storytelling came first, the message then followed. In this sense, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is an exceedingly Christian film. Other Christian filmmakers would be wise to take notice and follow Jenkin’s lead.