The Resurrection of Gavin Stone
A washed-up former child star, forced to do community service at a local megachurch, pretends to be a Christian to land the part of Jesus in their annual Passion Play, only to discover that the most important role of his life is far from Hollywood. (IMDb)
PG (for thematic elements including a crucifixion image)
1 hour, 32 minutes
January 20, 2017 (USA)
Director: Dallas Jenkins
Writer: Andrea Gyertson Nasfell
Stars: Brett Dalton, Anjelah Johnson-Reyes, Shawn Michaels, Neil Flynn, D.B. Sweeney, & Tim Frank
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rating: PG (for thematic elements including a crucifixion image)
In 2004, an independent film made by Mel Gibson was released: The Passion of the Christ. It took the world by storm in its quality of film-making and made audiences worldwide see the Bible in ways they never had before. While particularly divisive for many in its depiction of violence, one message came across loud and clear to Hollywood: there is a case to be made for films made for a Christian audience.
The movies centered around the Bible since then have went down one of two routes: smaller budgeted films released theatrically by relatively new production companies across a variety of genres (Fireproof, Courageous, Mom’s Night Out, God’s Not Dead) or big-budget epics that have come from major studios (Noah, Exodus: Gods & Kings). Some have had a hard time looking past some of the smaller films’ faults, while at the same time outright rejecting revisionist takes done by award-winning filmmakers. This has made the label “Christian movie” a bit complicated to assign. To some believers, it’s a cause to pre-order tickets with nary a detail known, while with others, they’d rather just stay home completely. It’s genuinely difficult to make a “Christian movie” that will please everybody, which begs the question: should filmmakers even try doing that?
With all of that in mind, I came upon a trailer for The Resurrection of Gavin Stone a few months ago. At Geeks Under Grace, we often review media made for a multitude of reasons, highlighting Scripture as illustrated by films, games, and music that may not have even intended it. Typically, these are properties built from the ground up for mass market consumption. So, what can be said about films that are made specifically with the Bible in mind, those that know they are made for very particular demographics? Can films made specifically for the “church crowd” be any good?
While I personally lost interest in MARVEL’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC back in its second season, Brett Dalton’s portrayal of Grant Ward on the show always had my attention. Agent Ward went on quite a ride throughout, and I’m sure that he handled the role well. I thought then that I’d like to see him headline a film, and here it is. Is it any good, and by that, I mean: is it enjoyable and message-filled, even if not world-changing?
Violence/Scary Images: The film centers around the staging of a church play about the life of Jesus Christ. That story builds to the Crucifixion, and at the end of the film, blood covers Jesus in the play. One of the most powerful images in the film follows this scene, but there is nothing violent in my mind in this film: no physical altercations or traditional scenes of alarm and distress.
Language/Crude Humor: Amazingly, I don’t remember a single word or phrase in the film that was inappropriate for any audience. No need to shield anyone’s ears here. Phrases like “Gosh” and “Screw-Up” are there, but that’s as harsh as it gets.
Spiritual Content: The film largely takes place in the church, and throughout the film, sermon excerpts are heard, Scripture is spoken, and there is “Bible talk” a-plenty. One of the funniest sequences in the film is Gavin trying his best to keep up with the church customs and order of service. For believers, this will provide laughs. For non-believers, they may be left scratching their heads, but again, this is very much made for a “Christian” audience.
Sexual Content: I don’t recall anything inappropriate said or done. While I’m not meaning to spoil the film in any way, it’s refreshing to see a romantic comedy not end with a cliché kiss.
Drug/Alcohol Reference: Gavin Stone finds himself in his predicament of mandatory community service due to his partying lifestyle. Characters drink and talk about drinking, but nothing inappropriate comes as a result for the audience to witness.
Other Negative Content: Gavin is fully self-absorbed with a grab bag of misplaced ideals in his life at the beginning of the film. The film shows repeatedly how he has misconceptions about Christianity, life, and Christ Himself. No one should be following his example as how to live and think, but the film takes the character on a journey and, hopefully, guides the audience to see the truth.
Positive Content: Laughter and comedy is most-often done in films at the expense of others, which makes Christian comedy difficult to do both effectively and appropriately. I think the film does what it needs to do well by being both those things. Granted, you might not be doubled over in laughter fits, but you also won’t see anything go too far. Here, we get a transformation in characters, a drawing together of people through strained relationships, all amidst a pleasant and fun story. Anything “negative” here is only used to further the many positives it builds toward, so yes, the film is filled with positive content.
With The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, we get a romantic comedy, but as anyone who watches those films can attest to, oftentimes, the content of those films isn’t appropriate for everybody. Here, we have Gavin Stone (Brett Dalton), a Hollywood bad-boy who once had national fame as a child star. Since then, he’s known more for his antics than his acting. After an incident leaves him sentenced to community service to be performed in his hometown, he goes back home to his father, Waylon (Neil Flynn), whom he hasn’t seen in years. He finds himself in the office of Masonville Bible Church’s pastor, Allen Richardson (D.B. Sweeney). Allen makes no qualms: Gavin will do the service as assigned, whether it is mopping or whatever is needed.
While working, Gavin sees that the church is presenting a play about Jesus, and being the “star” that he is, he thinks the entire production could benefit from him not only being involved somehow, but by playing Jesus Himself. Convincing the show’s director, the preacher’s daughter, Kelly (Anjelah Johnson-Reyes), takes some doing, but Gavin gets the lead. The only problem is he knows nothing about Jesus or the Bible, despite telling everyone he’s a Christian. His acting instincts are often at odds with the character of Christ, and he finds himself wanting to substitute what was said for something “better.” Still, he has a powerful effect on those he is acting with (including Doug, played by the pro wrestler, Shawn Michaels), as well as a community anticipating the performance. Every hour gets him closer to completing his required time, but is it possible that even someone like Gavin can be changed, deep down?
I found it a little difficult to sum up my thoughts about this film. Many of the Christian films I’ve seen are accused of being overly preachy, but I’ve always enjoyed them, nonetheless. Many of our readers may have thought they were corny and melodramatic, and I get where they are coming from. Still, personally, I’ve enjoyed many of these types of films the last few years. In its trailer and marketing efforts, I think the filmmakers are trying to be different, but I think the film is largely the same as many smaller, faith-based films. It’s never quite funny enough or heavy enough to really stand out as being different on its own. I know that seems like a harsh critique, but all in all, the film is just “fine”: enjoyable and a clean experience for all.
May no perceived slight be attributed to Brett Dalton, though. I thought his lead performance as Gavin was excellent, and he was able to make me laugh, cry, and everything in between. Most films succeed or fail based on the leading performance, and he truly does a great job with his role. I wanted to see him lead a film, and he definitely did. Honestly, I wanted to watch him more, even though he is basically in every scene. His supporting cast all do their jobs well. I think that my critique stems from the material just not being as good as those acting it out. Beyond just the laughs, there are scenes with real emotional resonance, especially towards the end. Still, at the finish of the film, my feeling was just “Well, that’s nice.” I just couldn’t go much further than that.
Speaking of the material, most of the film is fairly predictable, and that may not be a bad thing for everybody. Some people like to be challenged by film narratives like myself, and some just want a film to be easy like comfort food. I guess the reason I’m feeling so mixed about it all is that this film feels like a Hallmark made-for-TV movie that is released theatrically. Many such movies that air on TV are “nice”, but few are “great.”
Brett Dalton shows true talent here, and personally, I hope he gets another few movies in the faith-based genre to work with. Here though, the material just doesn’t make much of an impact, at least beyond the credits. Say what you will about if they should or not, but many Christian movies release with accompanying Bible studies, and several of them have messages that resonate enough to compel audiences to sign up and dig into the Bible for a few weeks following. I don’t know if there is any planned accompanying literature for this film, but there really shouldn’t be.
As stated earlier, I like that it’s a romance that doesn’t lay everything out by film’s end, and I truly respect that. I liked much of the humor, and I actually laughed out loud on a handful of occasions, especially at Gavin “acting Christian.” This film has a nice affirming message that exists within the moments of watching it, but I can’t see it going much further than that. By film’s end, we see that the message of Christ and the community fellowship of believers show true merit to a soul that has been desperately searching for something more than what the world gives, and that message in itself will hopefully impress the need for audiences, saved or unsaved, to see the value of seeking out each of these in their own lives.
On a technical side, I watched the film in a pre-release online screening, and my internet connection didn’t allow the film to be viewed in consistent high-definition. Still, in watching the trailer, the film looks like it was shot well, crisper than many other faith-based films. The opening few scenes felt somewhat awkward to me, especially in jail, as the cut I watched had some audio reverb going on then that was distracting. Once the film got going, things improved. The music did what it needed to do with some good song choices to supplement, but the editing of scenes could have been smoother.
I truly feel torn here, and I know some go straight to the end for a review, so I will say that there’s a lot to like, whether you watch alone, with your family, or with your church group. I applaud the film for being completely family-appropriate material in a time when most movie choices need to be screened for appropriateness. Most audience members that the film was made for will like the film, maybe even really like it. I just don’t think the film will be as memorable long-term as it could have been. You could do a lot worse in a film choice, and for any interested in seeing The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, I don’t want to dissuade you from seeing it. If not in theaters, then see it as a rental down the line. I think you’ll really “like” it, but I don’t know if it will go much further than that.
+ A great performance from Brett Dalton
+ A message much needed today
+ A film fully appropriate for any audience.
- Fairly predictable script
- Not likely to be memorable long-term
- Choppy editing throughout