When thinking back to the time of hippies and “peace and love,” Jesus Christ doesn’t often come to mind. But Jon Erwin’s Jesus Revolution wants to showcase the real-life story of the “Jesus Movement” that took place in the 1970s, as the Vietnam War waged on and kids were searching for truth from a distrustful government. At first glance, Jesus Revolution is an inspiring, heartwarming watch, but it gives a seamlessly joyful look at a movement with a harmful past, in a way that feels like a slap in the face in the year of our Lord 2023.
Jesus Revolution features Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer), an uptight Christian preacher in California who is deathly afraid of hippies, drugs, and the path teens were heading down in the 70s. His world is rocked when his daughter (Ally Ioannides) brings home a man named Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie) who looks like every Western Christian depiction of Jesus Christ: a tall white man with long, wavy brown hair, a beard, and warm presence.
At the same time, a military school kid named Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney) falls head over heels for another high schooler Cathe (Anna Grace Barlow). They both go to Janis Joplin concerts, do drugs together, and go on truth-seeking journeys. But their trajectories change when each has a drug-induced brush with death, and they find themselves moved by Calvary Chapel, Lonnie and Chuck’s creation. By this point, Lonnie has helped Chuck turn his unpopular, quiet church into something akin to a megachurch, full of praise and worship songs—and even miracles.
The movie is meant to be a feel-good film, and it succeeds in that (especially with solid acting from Grammer and Roumie). However, the well-documented homophobia of the real-life characters and leaders of these churches and movements, specifically, makes the well-meaning messages in the film ring hollow.
Lonnie gives a homily about how hippies and kids are just searching for their place where they’re accepted. In true Christian fashion, he calls them sheep without a shepherd, who are often rejected by people like Chuck and his parishioners. How could they ever step into a church whose doors are closed to them? If you’re someone who’s disillusioned by modern Christianity, especially due to scandals in the church and its condemnation of homosexuality, hearing this message and seeing this uptight church open its doors to these kids is touching. It makes you hope for a form of Christianity that is truly a welcoming and loving space for all. In truth, Chuck Smith went full Westboro Baptist Church in his beliefs that 9/11 was caused by the U.S. Supreme Court “supporting” homosexuals and abortion, per the Los Angeles Times. Greg Laurie has written and talked about his beliefs that being queer is a choice and not in line with what God wants.
If you were hoping for a biopic-esque look at these real-life people, with all of their relevant faults displayed to give a full, truthful story, Jesus Revolution isn’t it. It has all the makings of a classic Christian film—with a higher budget—that washes over the gross beliefs of a church that isn’t as loving or welcoming as Jesus Christ was. PG-13, 120 min.