Press "Enter" to skip to content

Review: Jesus Revolution (2023)

Jesus Revolution (2023)

Directed by: Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle

Premise: Based on true events. In 1960s California, square pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer) pairs with hippie street preacher Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie) to minister to young people from the countercultural scene. Their partnership sparks a religious revival.

What Works: About ten years ago Hollywood and independent faith-based production houses produced a wave of religiously-themed movies. A few of them were good but many were bad with lousy production values matched by tribalist and anti-intellectual points of view. Religious films have continued to play since then with improved artistic and thematic merits. Jesus Revolution is one of the better examples of this kind of filmmaking. The picture is well intentioned and not condescending or didactic. It’s a story of wayward people searching for spiritual meaning and finding a community. This is also an effective period piece, recreating the look of its era and doing so with a relevant point of view. The filmmakers frame the hippies as young people who were looking for something meaningful and beautiful but were enveloped in a drug culture that was a dead end. At the same time, the staid and conservative religious experience is shown to not work for these characters. What emerges from Smith and Frisbee’s cooperation is a new style of ministry that bridges generations. Jesus Revolution dramatizes that meeting of subcultures in a way that is humanistic and conciliatory in a way that is agreeable.

What Doesn’t: While Jesus Revolution is not a didactic piece it is nevertheless a film with an agenda. Jesus Revolution is an origin story for contemporary evangelical Christianity and an advertisement for that subculture. The moviemakers look on this spiritual revival with awe and enthusiasm and avoid any of the real life details that might challenge or complicate their story, such as Chuck Smith preaching that the world would end in 1981 and the fact that Lonnie Frisbee was a semi-closeted gay man who later left Christianity. For that matter, Jesus Revolution is conflict adverse to a fault. Stories thrive on the rise and fall of emotion as characters cope with obstacles. The makers of Jesus Revolution downplay conflicts and resolve them as quickly and painlessly as possible, resulting in a movie that is dramatically flat. The filmmakers imply that Frisbee was imbued with healing powers or thought he was or was otherwise a fraud; the matter is left ambiguous and when Smith calls Frisbee on it the confrontation doesn’t cause meaningful repercussions.  

Bottom Line: Jesus Revolution is a nice and easy religious film. It evades any difficult or challenging material and it is ultimately superficial. But Jesus Revolution succeeds in telling this story in a way that captures the passion of this movement.

Episode: #943 (April 9, 2023)