"Jesus People" Proves Even Christians Can Be Funny
- 2009 27 Apr
Release Date: **This film is currently making the spring and summer film festival rounds—more release details available at jesuspeoplefilm.com.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Comedy, Satire
Run Time: 90 min.
Actors: Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jennifer Elise Cox, Mindy Sterling, Tim Bagley, Laura Silverman, Octavia Spencer, Carrie Aizley, Catherine Reitman, Nikki Boyer, Joel McCrary, Robert Bagnell, Lindsey Stidham, Edi Patterson, Rich Pierrelouis, Damon Pfaff
For the Christian music community, Gospel Music Week is always the crème de la crème of the calendar year in a city known for its music—Nashville, Tennessee. But instead of the usual country acts in the spotlight, this week’s all about gospel music in its myriad of forms—pop, rock, hip-hop, heavy metal, southern gospel, you name it.
In addition to interviews between artists and national media outlets, showcases at all the local venues and symposiums designed to help everyone involved do their respective jobs a little better, the week culminates with the GMA Music Awards, the faith-based set’s equivalent of the GRAMMY Awards.
And really, aside from the feeling that a few more people decided to opt out of GM Week (for financial reasons, perhaps?), this year’s festivities really weren’t all that different. Interviews went as scheduled. It still wasn’t easy deciding which showcases to attend—and which to skip. Basically, by the end of the week, you’re ready to collapse from the constant flurry of activity. You know, GM Week as usual.
But a rather buzzworthy opportunity to stir the proverbial pot arrived two nights before the GMA Music Awards with the screening of Jesus People at the Belcourt in Hillsboro Village. A mockumentary in the style of Spinal Tap meets TV’s The Office meets Christopher Guest’s For Your Consideration or Best in Show, the flick effectively spoofed the very industry having its annual moment of glory.
Not that the audience, a full house comprised of industry insiders, artists (yes, Christian music artists), college students and regular ol’ film fans seemed to mind, though. From beginning to end, the screenplay, penned by Dan Ewald (who has written about Christian music for many respected publications over the years), Rajeev Sigmoney and director Jason Naumann, elicited a steady stream of laughs at the idiosyncrasies of mixing faith and art “for the glory of God.” But unlike, say, 2004’s Saved, those providing the tongue-in-cheek commentary actually have a little fun with the Christian subculture without actually mocking God in the process. Imagine that.
Being in on the joke definitely helped Ewald, Signmoney and Naumann write about the absurdities of Christian music with credible (and pithy) authority, while offering some occasionally convicting fodder for post-movie discussion in the process. More than anything, however, it effectively showcases a little-known fact about Christians: We can be genuinely funny from time to time.
And for anyone who’s been in church for very long, there’s nothing funnier than when a pastor (with no musical experience to speak of) decides to start a Christian band because he’s afraid for his son’s spiritual condition.
Hoping to provide a viable alternative for his teenage kid’s decidedly secular musical preferences, Pastor Jerry Frank (Joel McCrary) is so incredibly earnest one can’t help but want to cheer him on. But in one misguided move after the next, (imagine those really, really bad American Idol auditions from the contestants convinced they’re the next Celine Dion, and you’ve got the right idea), there’s part of you that also wishes you could give him a crash course in reality.
But Pastor Frank’s plan isn’t going to be deterred, even if it means telling his own wife she’s not talented enough for the group. Instead, he recruits Gloria Hamming (a hilarious Edi Patterson), a one-hit wonder whose Christian music career came to an abrupt end when news got out that her ex-husband came out of the closet. Then there’s Cara (Lindsey Stidham), a local beauty contest winner who’s pretty but knows more about partying than about Phillippians. And the group wouldn’t be complete without Ty, (Rich Pierrelouis) the token African American who’s expected to rap just because he’s, well, black and Zak (Damon Pfaff), a catchphrase-loving Christian who never sees life and morality with any shades of gray—just black and white. In interviews and videos, he’s the spiritual face of the group whose main goal is to convert, convert, convert those sinners!
With the line-up in place, Jesus People, which was initially a series of comedy vignettes that attracted a considerable cult following on the Independent Comedy Network, takes a VH1’s Behind the Music sort of turn—with far more laughs, of course—and documents the band’s journey from relative unknowns to successful crossover act with a mainstream pop hit. Of course, just like an episode of Behind the Music, you know it won’t be long before fame inevitably takes it toll on the group, a moment that hilariously plays out at an awards ceremony.
While Jesus People is entertaining with its razor-sharp commentary on the evangelical subculture, however, it never does so in a way that’s blatantly mean or insulting. If anything, the project is meant to unite the faithful and encourage them to create art that reaches a hurting world without resorting to all those familiar clichés that people often automatically associate with anything faith-based. It’s a great lesson in funny packaging, which is often the best way of making a statement, right?
For more information on Jesus People: The Movie, check out www.jesuspeoplefilm.com.
- Drugs/Alcohol: References to social drinking.
- Language/Profanity: None.
- Sex/Nudity: A couple of double entendres, plus discussion of Gloria’s sex scandal involving her husband coming out of the closet. The issue of sexual purity before marriage is also discussed.
- Violence: Only of a comedic nature.
Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog.
For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.