Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 #61 The Resurrection of Gavin Stone (2017)
Welcome, friends, to the latest entry in Control Nathan Rabin 4.0. It’s the career and site-sustaining column that gives YOU, the kindly, Christ-like, unbelievably sexy Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place patron an opportunity to choose a movie that I must watch, and then write about, in exchange for a one-time, one hundred dollar pledge to the site’s Patreon account. The price goes down to seventy-five dollars for all subsequent choices.
I’ve had my eye on today’s selection, 2017’s The Resurrection of Gavin Stone ever since I learned that this inauspicious, forgettable-looking bible thumper has the curious distinction of being distributed by Blumhouse, the horror and genre movie powerhouse behind smashes like Get Out and The Purge and WWE Studios, the motion picture arm of Vince McMahon’s wrestling dynasty.
What could possibly have convinced our top professional wrestling league and low to medium-budgeted horror movie dynamo to get into the Christian movie business with this motion picture in particular?
WWE’s involvement is understandable: the film’s low-wattage supporting cast includes WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels as Doug, a muscle-bound biker who is now REALLY into Jesus. The Blumhouse connection is more perplexing in part because there’s almost nothing remotely distinctive or memorable about The Resurrection of Gavin Stone beyond perhaps its setting in a Mega-Church.
Gavin Stone is yet another stiff, bland tribute to the nobility and superiority of quiet small town life and old-fashioned Christian values but it undercuts its message of modesty and Christ-like humility ever so slightly by taking place largely in a Church roughly the size of a professional football stadium.
Brett Dalton, who looks like a soap opera handsome version of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star/creator Rob McIlhenney, stars as the title character, a Corey Haim-like ex-child star whose once promising career crashed and burned in a series of arrests, rehab stints and screaming tabloid headlines.
For his latest transgression, an epic party on a hotel rooftop involving a catapult, Gavin is sentenced to 200 hours of community service at a church in the small Illinois town where his salt-of-the-earth father lives.
Gavin’s dad is played by Scrubs and The Middle star Neill Flynn in a legitimately impressive performance. Gavin Stone has nothing on its mind beyond spreading the gospel, something it does stiffly and poorly, but Flynn makes his stoic Midwestern patriarch a real, three dimensional character the movie doesn’t seem to know what to do with.
At the mega-church Gavin learns that his slick, big city show-business ways mean nothing to the simple, honest, God-fearing folks of a small town outside of Chicago.
With his “Yoga” and long, shameful history of sex outside of marriage, Gavin is a fish out of water until he learns that the church is putting on a play about Jesus. The disgraced has-been wants in even after he learns that in order to be eligible for a role in this amateur small town production he needs to be a true believer, a Christian who has turned his life over to the Lord.
This sets the egomaniacal actor on a drearily predictable course to salvation with the aid and assistance of pastor’s daughter Kelly Richardson (comedian and former NFL cheerleader Anjelah Nicole Johnson), a stern, dowdily dressed director with only room for Jesus in her life and a trio of male sidekicks: Michaels’ gentle, Jesus-loving giant, a nerdy Poindexter who has been courting Kelly, in his mind at least, since the 1990s, and an awkward Gavin Stone super-fan who clearly has a huge crush on Gavin the movie can understandably never acknowledge or explore because pre-marital sex does not exist in its universe, let alone homosexuality.
Gavin Stone can’t seem to imagine anything more exciting than the life of a devout small-town Midwestern Christian. Just think of it: the praying, the fellowship, the Bible study groups, the lukewarm pizza, the flat root beer, the plain, shapeless Sears wardrobes, the fellowship, the praying. Did I mention the praying and the fellowship? It gets pretty crazy there with the testifying and everyone discussing the week’s bible verses.
Gavin Stone is another Christian tale of redemption and salvation about a sinner who cannot be around people of faith and the word of Jesus without becoming infected with Godliness himself but the movie makes mega-church Christianity seem roughly as appealing as an American cheese sandwich on Wonder Bread slathered in mayonnaise.
I did not expect The Resurrection of Gavin Stone to convert me but I didn’t imagine it would make Christianity seem substantially less appealing either. Turns out there’s a damned good reasons they don’t make Christian movies about the joys of belonging to a mega-church: they look corporate, soulless and enormous onscreen, even after Gavin’s mind is blown by the revelation that in today’s mega-church, the music is sometimes provided by boring white men with electric guitars dressed like Blockbuster clerks. That mega-churches now employ bad rock music as part of their outreach might have qualified as news in the 1980s, but today only the film’s protagonist seems surprised or impressed by it.
Playing rock music in a mega-church doesn’t make a congregation seem more rocking and contemporary; it just makes rock and roll seem lamer.
The Resurrection of Gavin Stone fatally does not grasp that the essence of acting involves actors pretending to be people they are not, not becoming the characters they’re playing. It does not seem to understand, for example, that an actor playing the Joker would not need to first become a real-life crime boss and enemy of Batman in order to get into character or earn the role.
That’s how it functions in The Resurrection of Gavin Stone. In order to even have an opportunity to do something as exciting as perform in an amateur church passion play Gavin needs to publicly profess his deep, soul-consuming faith in Jesus, to take the Good Shepherd as his Lord and Savior.
In order to adequately play Jesus in such an important production, meanwhile, our boy needs to emulate Christ in word and deed, to humble himself before the King of Kings and become Christ-like in all he does.
In Resurrection at least it works that way in the sinful, evil world of Hollywicked entertainment as well. In the third act, when this turkey needs conflict, Gavin gets the ridiculous, impossible, insultingly implausible offer of a lifetime.
A hotshot television creator, possibly a Jew, is so inspired by Gavin’s legendary debauchery at the hotel rooftop party with the catapult that he writes a role for a network television show for Gavin with the catch that he needs to fly out to Hollywood the next day to play the role.
This heathen, this sinner, this devil on Gavin’s righteous shoulder apparently digs Gavin enough to write a role specifically for him that only he can play but not enough to wait 72 hours so that he can fulfill his obligations and leave the most boring small town in the world with a clear conscience.
This sinful man, this show-business Anti-Christ hired Gavin because of his past as a crazed, drug-addicted hedonist but he's not taking any chances.
This foul minion of the Devil takes a clearly tormented and depressed Gavin aside and tells him, “You are at your lowest point. You desperately need a fix. All right? Are you with me?”
To help Gavin get into character the TV show guru tells him he put a “little somethin’-somethin’” in his prop glass, an “old favorite” of his.
Now it is not definitively established whether this typical show-business paragon merely filled Gavin’s prop glass with sweet, sweet hard liquor, in flagrant violation of every workplace law known to man or whether he spiced things up with a little MDMA or Crystal Meth. This is a PG Christian movie so they don’t go into detail when it comes to debauchery. In its mind, it’s all bad.
We only know that this hardened television professional is forcing a sober former addict to fall off the wagon and consume alcohol and/or stimulants or some other manner of mind-altering substance as a provision for landing a high-profile new job.
On a purely selfish level, the TV heavyweight dangling a forbidden apple of secular success in front of Gavin could save himself a world of heartbreak and hassle by not forcing Gavin to do something that would undoubtedly send him on a downward spiral of erratic behavior, unprofessionalism, missed days and possible death, imprisonment or homelessness.
Honestly, it would not make the movie any more ridiculous or far-fetched if after Gavin rebuked this show-business devil in the name of his Lord and Savior it was revealed that the foul tempter had cloven hooves, horns and smells unmistakably of brimstone.
This forces Gavin to choose between his faith and his career and between a man who wants to send him on a fast track to hell and a humorless, deeply unappealing woman who wants to save his soul.
When Gavin chooses the implausibly amazing professional opportunity over playing Jesus in a mega-church for free Kelly Richardson unleashes a horrific guilt trip on Gavin for the unforgivable crime of prioritizing his career and professional future over the needs of a small-town church production.
She’s ready to banish Gavin to the bowels of Hell for his unrighteous decision even after he flies back to Illinois to play Jesus as planned.
You might think the director would be happy for her star, that she’d realize that he could do more good for Christ as an amply compensated, famous and influential regular on a network television show than as a small-town parishioner. Nope. This pastor’s daughter prioritizes her stupid fucking play above all else.
The Resurrection of Gavin Stone follows a dispiritingly predictable redemptive arc lazily telegraphed by its title but it’s a testament to how badly the movie preaches the Gospel that I liked Gavin way better before he got saved.
This is supposed to make small-time Christian life seem irresistible and quietly but unmistakably superior and preferable to the Godless high life. Instead it makes mega-church-style Christianity seem like the world’s most boring cult.
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