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Jesus People - The Movie
Director: Jason Naumann
Written by: Dan Ewald & Rajeev Sigamoney
Starring: Joel McCrary, Edi Patterson, Damon Pfaff, Rich Pierrelouis, Lindsay Stidham, Karen Whipple, Nikki Boyer,  Chris  Fennessy and Kevin Kirkpatrick
Ewald / Sigamoney Productions
90 minutes 

Shot in the 'mocumentary' format of The Office and with the peeking-over-your-shoulder looseness of a Christopher Guest film, Jesus People offers a look at the foibles of the Christian Music industry and Christian pop culture in general. Director Jason Naumann, along with writers Dan Ewald and Rajeev Sigamoney, use the magnifying glass of satire to exaggerate these familiar characters just enough to make us laugh instinctively before we realize we might be laughing at a mirror image of ourselves.

The main cast of characters are certainly flawed, but there's an underlying familiarity we have with these people - the purity of (their initial) motives makes us sympathize with them as they struggle with their own delusions of grandeur and the reality of their very real limitations. 

In a nutshell, documentary director Jodi Schiller (Nikki Boyer) thinks she's doing a story on a 'Christian diet book' but stumbles onto the bigger story of local pastor, Jerry Frank (Joel McCrary), who's on a mission to form a Christian pop group as an alternative to the music his son has been listening to lately. Holding auditions at his church and keeping an ear to the locals, Pastor Frank assembles Cara (Lindsay Stidham) - a local beauty queen with teeny-bopper appeal but an understanding of spiritual things that makes Paris Hilton look like Malcolm Muggeridge, Zak (Damon Pfaff) - a devout, enthusiastic and, some might say fanatical young man with a good voice but an earnestness and forced smile that are borderline creepy, Gloria (Edi Patterson) - a former CCM star badly in need of a comeback since falling out of favor with her audience - the result of being abandoned by her husband, who left her for another… person, and lastly, Ty (Rich Pierrelouis) - the level-headed 'African American' of the group ("actually, my parents were from France"), constantly called upon to (as the over-the-top Christian radio show interviewer put it) "add the flay-vah."

Despite their ineptitude, the group - Cross My Heart - eventually records a song and a video that earns them the coveted crossover hit that they wanted. In the process, we meet an eccentric and delusional store front choreographer, a church worship leader who's a 'professional' songwriter, and a video director intent on featuring himself as Jesus (saving AIDS-babies and even the Twin Towers) in the band's music video.

Jesus People, unlike The Office, features the documentary crew as background characters in the film, even to the point where the 'director,' Jodi, becomes romantically involved with Ty by the end of the story. This interaction, as well as a secondary plotline involving Pastor Frank and  the ramifications of a doctor's visit (that we see right in the opening scenes), all serve to add a more traditional forward momentum to the film - a sense of eventual resolution of dangling plot lines to temper the vérité quality with a more traditional cinematic storytelling format. The result is a movie being shot within a movie - not something that hasn't been done before, but being done here in a fairly seamless, effective, unobtrusive way.

The main cast, as well as the supporting actors, do a fine job of underplaying the absurdity of some of what's going on, and are just oddball enough to make us want to watch them to see what they will (or won't) do next. Edi Patterson, playing the past-her-prime CCM pop star, turns in a textured comic performance with some impressive physical shtick, and Carrie Ailey, in a small part as the church secretary, is worthy of note as she displays an inspired spacey quality that steals the only scene she's in.

 Those familiar with the workings of the Christian Music industry and with evangelical church culture will relate - sometimes painfully - to this mirror-image that distorts a little less than we'd like to think it does. This is not to say that the film won't work with general audiences - there's enough about human nature on the screen to get plenty of laughs from an un-churched crowd that never had someone grab their hand and say, "let's pray about it," or don't have a clue who Carman is. 

The secular media isn't spared either, as the MTV-type interviewer shows an obvious disdain for the idea of Christian music until Gloria emphasizes that Cross My Heart's single is really about saving the environment more than saving the soul. Yes, the group sells out - and the results ultimately show them exactly who they are and where they really stand. This movie should help you do the same, since you're probably in it somewhere. And so am I.

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Bert Saraco



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