Some of the most commonly heard complaints about Christian-themed films is that they lack quality, sacrifice character development for the sake of an obvious ethical statement, or simply serve as an "echo chamber" for the already-faithful. Sadly, such criticisms aren't always wrong - and the ratings reflect that reality.
However, "The Resurrection of Gavin Stone", which hit theaters today, is not one of those films.
Directed by Dallas Jenkins and starring Brett Dalton (TV's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D), the faith-based drama/comedy tells the story of Gavin Stone, a washed-up former child star who has resorted to a life of drugs, alcohol, and partying since his popular TV show ended. Gavin's antics land him in 200 hours of community service at a local megachurch - a sentence he begrudgingly agrees to, as his only other option is jail time.
While cleaning the floors of the church bathroom, Gavin sees the congregation is putting on a big passion play, so he pretends to be a Christian so he can star as Jesus Christ - and spend more time with the pastor's pretty daughter, Kelly (Anjelah Johnson-Reyes). While playing the part of Jesus Christ, Gavin begins to learn more about Him - and is suprised by Jesus' humility and compassion. Thanks to the warmth and kindness of Kelly and his co-stars, Gavin soon begins to lose his cocky and attention-seeking attitude. He also begins to reconnect with his bitter, estranged father (Neil Flynn of Scrubs and The Middle).
However, just before opening night, a Hollywood producer calls Gavin to offer him a comeback role on a new TV show, but tells him he must fly to LA in just a few hours or lose the opportunity. Gavin is faced with a dilemma - will he return to Hollywood and his selfish, bad boy ways, letting down his newfound friends? Or, will he stay at the church and play Jesus Christ in the annual play, proving that he has truly experienced a change of heart?
"The Resurrection of Gavin Stone" is a charming, funny film that highlights the importance of grace, forgiveness, humility and redemption. It expertly skirts becoming heavy-handed and overly moralistic while still driving home the biblical truth that anyone can experience a change of heart - even the most cynical of individuals. In one particularly symbolic scene, Gavin, in the role of Jesus, tells those seeking to kill the woman caught in adultery, "Let he who is without sin throw the first Stone."
Unlike some faith-based films, "Gavin Stone" breaks down the stereotype of Christians as overly-preachy and moralistic - in fact, one of the church members is a born-again biker-turned-mechanic played by World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Shawn Michaels. Instead, they're kind, grace-filled individuals who accept Gavin for who he is - while still displaying what it means to be "in the world but not of it". When Gavin expresses confusion over the grace and unconditional love he's been shown by the church, Kelly simply tells him, "This is what we do".
With a PG rating (for thematic elements including a crucifixion image), "The Resurrection of Gavin Stone" is family friendly - and a breath of fresh air for Christian audiences looking for lighthearted, quality entertainment.