Fake News and Faith-Based “Gavin Stone”—Review

gavinstoneThe Resurrection of Gavin Stone was released this past weekend with a great deal of grassroots fanfare. I was bombarded by people telling me that the film was “HILARIOUS” and that I needed to support it because the “Christian film genre needs help.” I was skeptical about the film being that funny, but I trusted my sources and watched it.

When the theater lights came up after the end credits, I realized that all the social media entries about the “HILARIOUS” film were all fake news. My friends were duped, or they’ve learned how to lie for the sake of a good cause. Nah, they were duped.

It seems that the more a person watches campy films to support a cause, the more the bar of their artistic scale lowers. They loose track of what is great cinema and what should’ve been relegated to a TV Movie of the Week (MOW) on a small cable network.

But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. I’ll suppose they hadn’t watched La La Land or Hidden Figures yet, which would have shifted their skewed perspective back to a healthy norm. And, they probably hadn’t recently watched videos of The Blind Side, Gravity or Les Misérables.

Then again, maybe they’re stuck on squishy Hallmark movies, where in the first three minutes of the film you know exactly where the plot is headed—comfortably taking away any unwanted surprises. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone did that very thing, lifting its tired plots directly from Hallmark Christmas and Winterfest movies.

I don’t slight director Dallas Jenkins for using a Hallmark format for a campy story in the least, but I do find it interesting that he was quoted as saying his desire was that the movie “drives people to church on Sunday morning,” when the film was clearly made for the proverbial choir.

The film was loaded with Christian jargon that wasn’t understood by the general public, making it impossible to create any desire in a non-believer to attend church. The “inside jokes” also made it difficult for the audience to feel compelled to join the click, rather than being repulsed by it. That’s not to say Jenkins didn’t have the right to make a film for the choir, but to say he hopes it reaches unbelievers sounds like the perfect set up for fake news.

When a film’s language is campy Christian, gritty secular crowds won’t get it. Most won’t even buy the ticket. In fact, the moment Christians hear that the film is yet another faith-based campy story that belongs on a small cable network, box office sales will dry up. But, it won’t really matter, as Jenkins got his two weeks in theaters to increase video sales.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the film was a flop at the box office. Opening weekend saw less than $2,500 per screen average; a number that once a normal film drops to is clearly on its way out.

But the film isn’t all bad. The good news is that the choir will laugh hardily when watching this comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, the choir might finally be able to poke fun at themselves after watching this film that takes the starch out of the up-tight ministry leader. Jenkins did a great job at getting the proverbial choir to look at themselves from an outsider’s viewpoint.

There were even several great moments of acting aside from the purposeful cheeky scenes filled with self-deprecating choir humor and campy fun. Had the title been better suited toward comedy and the film shot as a television special, I’m convinced it would’ve had much higher viewership.

The timing of the film might have added to the film’s death, since many in the choir are still trying to see award winning films like La La Land and Hidden Figures – Both are must sees in my book.

So let me be clear … stating that the film is “HILARIOUS” is fake news. Saying that the film will “delight members of the choir and their friends” is truth. Saying that the film is “original” is fake news. Saying that the film is heartwarming is truth. Are you getting the picture?

My recommendation, go see La La Land and Hidden Figures first.

Copyright 2017 by CJ Powers

Why Fuller House Campy Wins

Fuller_HouseTwitter was abuzz with the release of Fuller House, the Netflix reprise series based on the original Full House. Since Netflix doesn’t reveal the number of viewers watching, estimates can only be determined by social media activity. All standard media sources suggest that the new series is a large success – No surprise to anyone.

Conversely, there probably isn’t a single critic in the market that would recommend the campy 80’s styled sitcom, but they’d all admit the episodes are perfectly crafted for the show’s original fans. The polarized marketplace will probably not provide any new viewers, but the series had a very large initial fan base eager to watch the series again.

It was clear in the first episode that the cast played some of the jokes straight to the audience including the writer’s proverbial hand slap to Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen (who played Michelle Tanner) for not joining the cast. The media picked up on the controversy, which increased viewership.

The Olsen ladies are fashion experts and not in a position to leave their empire unmanaged. Nor do they consider themselves actors, which would make the long shooting days grueling rather than stimulating. But, the deciding factor would have been the dollars spent on their high salaries that are well above an Internet budget. Another deterrent might be their lackluster desire to look alike and take turns playing Michelle. Although some still hope they will appear for a cameo in a future episode.

However, the real question behind Fuller House is how can a campy 80’s styled sitcom be so successful in an era when dark motion pictures excel over cheeky? The answer to the question is also demonstrative in the faith-based markets. So, I thought I’d try to explain both.

Two factors attribute to the Fuller House success. The first are the beloved characters that fans grew up with. During the 80’s, the characters played “family” well. It was during a time when families were breaking a part with more divorces than any other time in the history of our country. The characters became role models for those seeking unity of family in a time when the family unit was being dissolved.

The second factor was about demonstrating what “love” looked like. In fact, the first episode of Fuller House dove right in and demonstrated that same sacrificial love for the sake of family that made the show great in the 80’s. Our society has been polarized in recent years between narcissists and those willing to make sacrifices for loved ones. Fuller House is capitalizing on those who long for someone to demonstrate true love to them, which they can vicariously receive, with hope, through the series.

Anyone thinking that it’s the cheese factor that attracts the audience is missing how powerful it is for a fan to receive life lessons from a beloved character. They may also be missing the fact that most people in our country no longer have anyone that is willing to share unconditional and sacrificial love with them. That void emotionally bonds the beloved characters  with the audience, making them a part of their family.

The successful faith-based films are the same way. It’s not the cheesy storylines that draw the audience, but the “born again” stars that drive the films. David A. R. White always plays an approachable character who lives his faith out loud for everyone to see. In real life, White does the same, completing the connection for audiences to adore his work. It’s not his acting skills that draw the audience, but his personal character and his role.

Fuller House’s Candace Cameron Bure also shares personal similarities with her D. J. Tanner character. Both live a wholesome life out loud for all to see and are held in high esteem as a role model. Her super fans played a large role in supporting and promoting her conservative ideas when she was on The View – Proving that campy wasn’t the key factor to her success.

The funny thing is that many think campy is the thing that works in both Fuller House and faith-based films. But it’s the campy that pushes the general public away from the moral based shows. Only those who already appreciate wholesome living are able to tolerate the campy and it’s been around forever.

The 40’s had Abbott and Costello. The 50’s had Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. The 60’s moved campy to television with Batman. The 70’s campy shifted back to the silver screen with car films that allowed stars like Burt Reynolds to temporarily leave character and wink at the audience. The 80’s brought numerous campy series to television like Full House, The Facts of Life, Family Ties, Happy Days and many more. The 90’s saw the introduction of dozens of reality shows, which killed most campy shows.

Today campy is back, but not because people want to live in a delusional state, but because it’s the only shows that offer a demonstration on what family looks like and how to unconditionally share a sacrificial love with someone by putting them above oneself. Those two factors will continue to keep Fuller House a success until someone comes up with a realistic non-campy show that demonstrates the same.

Until then, get ready for more “cheeky,” as other shows from the top fifty 80’s sitcoms get re-launched on the Internet. And, expect more cheeky faith-based films to be released, while producers continue to think it’s the campy sweetness that makes the shows work.

© 2016 by CJ Powers