Review: The Resurrection of Gavin Stone (dir. Dallas Jenkins, 2017)

Review: The Resurrection of Gavin Stone (dir. Dallas Jenkins, 2017) January 20, 2017

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The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is a “faith-based” comedy about a washed-up former child star who, having trashed a hotel roof bar, is told to do a couple hundred hours of community service at a Chicago-based megachurch and ends up starring in their Easter play. It’s a safe, formulaic and utterly predictable film — precisely the kind of “Christian” movie I tend not to review here — but because of my interest in movies about Jesus, I was interested in seeing how this film would depict the play.

The movie’s main narrative is as by-the-book as they come. For one thing, it’s a “You lied to me!” movie, in which the main character lies about who or what he is and manages to keep the ruse going until the final act: in this case, Gavin Stone (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Brett Dalton), who was initially supposed to do janitorial work, lies and says he’s a Christian so that he can have a part in the play, and much of the movie’s humour, such as it is, revolves around him trying to act like a Christian but not quite getting it right. For another thing, this movie is a romantic comedy: the Easter play is being directed by the pastor’s daughter (Anjelah Johnson, who played a restaurant manager in Moms’ Night Out), and of course Gavin begins to fall for her.

The humour is generally at the expense of Gavin, who tosses phrases around that he thinks will make him sound like a churchgoer but don’t, exactly. (“I’ve had the passion of Christ for a couple years now,” he says when first asserting that he is a Christian himself.) The closest this movie gets to making any sort of subversive comment on Christian subculture comes in a scene where Gavin is with several other men who ask him to pray before they dig into some pizza, and Gavin ends up quoting a line from Braveheart — prompting some of the other men to nod a silent amen.

But no, don’t expect any satire here of the Wittenburg Door or Babylon Bee sort — i.e., the sort that would take aim precisely at this kind of movie. When Gavin attends his first church service and the music kicks in, you can tell immediately that this film will be a safe space for worship bands and everything they represent. The movie stays in its comfort zone and plays to the converted as surely as the musicians do.

As for the play within the film? Gavin not only plays the part of Jesus, he begins to suggest ways to improve the production. Amazingly, the script they start with still uses words like “ye” (do megachurches still use King James English?), and at one point — until the special effects fail him — Gavin suggests adding an Ascension scene to the play to give it more “punch”, which is an interesting comment on the way dramatizations of the life of Jesus sometimes go for spectacle over mystery.

Gavin also improvises some lines during the climactic performance of the play itself, and his additions to the script have the effect of making Jesus seem more eager to relate to people than he does in the Bible (he addresses the woman caught in adultery as “my sister”, and he urges the rich young ruler not to walk away). The movie casts these additions in a positive light — they show how Gavin is connecting to the heart of the Jesus story — but it’s still striking, within the context of this story, told by these people, to see a non-believer basically improve on what Jesus said and did.

And then there’s the moment when Gavin finally gives his life to Christ — and no, in a movie with this title, that’s not a spoiler — and it’s… Well, I’m still figuring out what I think of it. Suffice it to say that I can appreciate the theological point that the filmmakers were probably trying to make here, about being united with Christ in his death and resurrection (cf. Romans 6:5), but it’s still a bit jarring to hear the words Jesus spoke from the cross turned into the equivalent of a sinner’s prayer.

Anyway. The film isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s mildly amusing at times and its dramatization of the Jesus story includes a few moments that fans of the Jesus-movie genre might want to reference down the road. It’s not essential viewing by any stretch, but the film does have a few interesting ideas here and there.

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