If you are connected to me on any social media platform, you have probably heard or seen something from me about the movie, Church People (fka Youth Group). If you are not familiar with the film at all, or have seen us post but maybe didn't have a chance to really check it out, Church People is a Christian comedy...okay, let's not dismiss it here. I know there is a temptation to roll your eyes. "A Christian comedy? Can Christians be funny?"
In this film, the answer is a resounding yes.
Recently, one of the writers and the lead actor in the film Thor Ramsey was a part of The C.R.O.S.S. live stream show I co-host with Rico Lane, Ally Jefferson, and JeL Cruz. He said that, "You only satirize what you love." Meaning, the movie is satirical of the Church, and the quirky people within it. He added, "When you satirize something you don't love, it comes across as mean." And, there is nothing mean in this film.
Let's talk about the amazing feats-God feats-that have made this film happen. First, this project has been over a decade in the making. Persistence of faith, anyone? The people connected to this film are well-known actors like Michael Monks, William Baldwin, Chynna Phillips, Donald Faison; some of whom might actually have been taking a risk doing a faith-based film. Oh, and these people were taking a chance on a project with a director (Christopher Shawn Shaw) and a lead actor (Thor Ramsey) who were both doing their first feature film in those roles.
So, God surely had His hand in helping this film come together. Then, given the chaos of 2020, it would seem God's timing on the release of the film was perfect. Let's come together and laugh. Things are starting to really open back up more and more, and the need to fellowship, to share joy, to laugh (even at something one recognizes in themselves on screen) is at its highest now. So, in comes this labor of love for Christopher Shawn Shaw and Thor Ramsey, Church People.
Christian comedy. Yes. It's a thing. In some cases, especially in movies, it hasn't been a good thing. Sometimes, you develop a lactose sensitivity from the cheese.
Not with Church People. Leave the Lactaid at home.
There was a phenomenal writing team, with Ramsey being the initial writer on the project. Ramsey is a well-known and incredibly gifted stand-up comedian, so writing comedy with great timing is definitely in his forte. Add to Ramsey the writing experience of Bob Saenz and Wes Halula, and this film is incredibly well written. And truly funny.
With a collaboration of Hollywood actors and crew with Christians, you might expect, or fear, the truth and power of The Gospel would be watered down, or even corrupted.
Not with Church People.
Funny and true to the Gospel?
First, it is a comedy movie. The win here is that the comedy is well-written and well-timed. None of the jokes are forced.
In his first lead role in a feature film, Thor Ramsey delivers as a believable celebrity Youth Pastor struggling to refocus his work and career on the truth of Jesus Christ.
Michael Monks is the over-the-top, celebrity lead pastor that gets distracted from the Gospel, but is still lovable and decent enough to love despite becoming an antagonist. He does insane things and pursues the wrong ways of growing the church and God's Kingdom, but there is a genuineness and a lovability factor that is handled well. Celebrity pastors or pastors who do crazy things are not evil, vile people to be despised. They are still God's children who should be loved. Monks' delivery and the writing for this role deliver really well.
The big reveal of Mabel is well done. It's a great addition to the story and the "stand off" between "Mabel" and Erin Cahill's character is really fun.
Stephen Baldwin's character is so fun because everyone who has been to church knows someone like him. You will see pieces of people you know in this character. He nails it and the final scene with the smoke is pure genius!
The climatic scene at the Good Friday service is a homerun. I won't spoil it here, but the power in this scene is incredible. There is a symbolic and visible level of vulnerability with Pastor Skip (Monks) that spoke to me. Then, when that vulnerability was covered by Guy Sides (Ramsey), it also spoke of the protection Jesus offers His vulnerable, broken children. It was beautiful.
Below are some thoughts as a heads up for those who will watch in the future. These in no way really diminish the film, but are things I noticed that could be hang ups for those who watch.
The recently saved Blaise (Clancy McCartney) is a little on the goofy side, almost too much. However, this is paid off when we meet his parents (Chynna Phillips and William Baldwin) and see the home from which he comes. However, Blaise is a straight man in that Good Friday scene, which was a great change of pace and nicely executed.
The same with Tino, played by Joey Fatone. It's a really goofy character that spends much of the movie one-dimensional. However, his character gets deeper late in the movie. So, again, the goofiness of this character does get paid off.
In a technical aspect, there was one thing that I felt was missed. The climatic scene has me wondering, how can these characters other than Pastor Skip be heard by the auditorium? Only Pastor Skip is mic'd in the service which takes place in the large church and is being broadcast. It's a small detail that does not hurt the story in anyway. I believe the power of the message of this scene is more important and the handling of extra mics could have caused a disruption in the flow of the message.
This film is truly fun. It is funny for all ages. It is enjoyable for all people. If you are not a Christian, I truly believe you will enjoy the comedy and the quality of the story. You will probably enjoy laughing at how quirky Christians can be. If you are a Christian, you will enjoy this for the same reasons, plus I believe you'll also thoroughly appreciate the Good Friday scene.
I highly recommend this movie. If you aren't able to see it in theaters on the initial March 13-15, release, sign up for updates at ChurchPeopleFilm.com.
(Images borrowed from the Church People Facebook page @churchpeoplemovie)