BY HANS YADAV
Daily Arts Writer
Published June 14, 2009
Ewald Sigamoney Productions
Waterfront Film Festival
3.5 out of 5 stars
Receiving divine instruction to form a Christian pop group may seem like a ridiculous cliché, but "Jesus People" uses it as the groundwork for 90 minutes of side-splitting laughs. The movie chronicles the events surrounding a group of aspiring Christian singers in “mockumentary” style — satire filmed like a documentary. This type of filming lends itself to problems including awkward transitions between scenes. But on the whole the movie remains faithfully tied to comedy with hilarious lines and an even funnier cast.
Pastor Jerry Frank (Joel McCrary, “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement”) thinks he is dying. Adding to his misfortune, the Pastor can’t seem to reach his son Eli (newcomer Chris Fennessy) who listens to rap or “the devil’s music.” In order to save his son, the Pastor acts on a divine moment of clarity and brings together four unlikely individuals to start a Christian music group.
The movie’s biggest strength lies in its diverse cast. Each character offers their own ridiculous stereotype. For example, Zak (newcomer Damon Pfaff) is a hard-core Christian fanatic who always speaks his mind especially at the worst times. Teenage beauty pageant winner Cara (newcomer Lindsay Stidham), on the other hand, doesn’t really know what it means to be a Christian. Delusional Christian music veteran Gloria (Edi Patterson, TV’s “The Underground”) is back in the business for the first time since a hilarious scandal ruined her career. Finally, the soft-spoken, headstrong Ty (Rich Pierrelouis, “Barbershop 2: Back in Business”) is just there for the ride. Originally, Ty was approached to be the group’s “rap-ist” by the culturally unaware Pastor.
Quirky musical collaborations and diverse personalities make for some great moments, and the contrast in each character’s views and beliefs create some of the film's most memorable scenes. One in particular involves the four brainstorming song ideas. Zak thinks of songs that stress the illegitimacy of all other religions, while Gloria emphasizes her experience in the music industry. Princesses are Kara's main focus and Ty just sits in the corner, almost beating his head.
Since the movie is a mockumentary, it plays on certain stereotypes with frivolous zeal. While much of the movie is focused on the absurdity Christian music can escalate to, there is deeper social commentary targeting Christians in general. Such tact stems from the movie's characterization of its four singers. Each represents a different breed of Christian, including a borderline nutcase, a nominal Christian and some kind of balance between these two extremes.
The biggest problem with "Jesus People" is its lack of transitions between scenes. This stylistic technique is reminiscent of the TV show “The Office.” The characters know the camera is there and often interact with the film crew. This informal camera work allows for the freedom to jump from character to character without pause.
While the movie is mostly linear, there is still a feeling of segmentation throughout. Those who enjoy productions like “The Office” probably won’t mind, but those who aren’t used to this style may end up confused. Regardless, the first-rate humor overtakes this setback. The end result is a movie that not many filmmakers can pull off.