Normally, a film like this would be attended only by the faithful who have accepted the story as part of their own belief system. I can’t say that I share that faith, the evangelical movement that is depicted here passed me by, way back in the early seventies when I was just reaching my teen years. I was vividly aware of the “Jesus People” who roamed the streets sharing the good news that they wanted all to share. It was a compelling emotional movement that could perform miracles. I saw one example for myself. A neighbor that I knew as Fred, about the same age as me, was entrapped by a fascination with Nazi ideology. He actually wore a swastika armband and brownshirt to school on occasion. Somewhere along his way, he became a convert to a different cause, and the adolescent dalliance with the horrible trappings of Nazism ended and a far more healthy relationship started. I have no idea what happened to him subsequently, but at school we sometimes called him Reverend Fred, because he was now one of the Jesus Freaks that had become so well known.
I did not know the history of this movement, but I had heard a couple of the names before. I did know there was a connection between the hippies and the Jesus people and this story clarifies it pretty effectively. My main reason for seeing the film was the presence of Kelsey Grammer as Pastor Chuck Smith. I have been a fan of his since his long time playing Frasier Crane on television. He has apparently made several of these faith based films, serving as a producer as well as acting in them. I thought his performance in this film was quite authentic. In the early stages of the story, he is understandably a skeptic, but the scenes where he and the street preacher Lonnie Frisbee, begin to connect were very well done. Later in the film, when Smith has doubts about the form of Frisbee’s evangelism, it is subtle nonverbal acting that allows Grammer to stay true to the character that has been created by him earlier in the film.
The actor who plays Lonnie Frisbee has starred in a series of crowdfunded television episodes that are delivered not in seasons but as they are completed. Johnathan Roumie portrays Jesus in “The Chosen”, but in this film he is a hippie adopting the supposed appearance of Christ, to better connect with the congregations he hopes to develop. Frisbee was by all accounts a very charismatic minister, and Roumie taps into that sort of personal projection very effectively. As I said, the early scenes between him and Kelsy Grammer are very strong. The dialogue is compelling but the sincerity of the voices is just the extra element that makes things work as well as they do. There are dark elements to Frisbee’s background that are only hinted at in this story, in large part because the true subject of the movie is Greg Laurie.
Laurie is an evangelical author and the pastor of the Harvest Christian Fellowship, which is in essence, the heir to the Jesus Revolution of the title. He is also one of the screenwriters, so what we are seeing is an autobiographical film. If you have an open mind and are interested in how someone can come to their faith, this is a very good story to start with. As a conflicted high school student, Greg falls in with the hippies and the anti-social drug culture of the times. He is the embodiment of the type of soul that Frisbee has been talking with Pastor Smith about. Someone who seeks meaning through the counter-culture but can find that meaning through the Christian faith. Joel Courtney is playing the young adult version of Laurie, and it is his journey that forms the spine of the story, especially in the second half of the film. When I looked him up, I found that he had played the lead in one of my favorite films from a decade ago, “Super 8“. Movements are not usually created by a single individual, but they are shaped by individuals and sometimes directed into other channels. You don’t hear much these days about “Jesus Freaks” but clearly the roots of that movement have flowered into a culture that produces works like this film and helps structure the lives of the followers.
The movie is conventionally told. It is shot in a professional manner and it looks like a well budgeted feature from a modern studio. The direction is efficient without any stylistic indulgences, which does help keep the focus on the story. I am not familiar with the Christian rock songs that are frequently used, but I was impressed with how well they merged with the pop songs from the era that also populate the film. As an outsider looking in, I felt I got a good sense of what had happened and how why the movement succeeded in creating a strong Christian community. Others may want to delve into issues of ministry and the conflicts that exist among the faithful, I simply was interested in the story of the movement, and I felt satisfied with the description I was given.