by William Collen
The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is a pleasantly crafted story with relatable characters and will satisfy any fan of the redemptive-arc storyline. However, there are some serious structural flaws which makes it hard for me to fully endorse it—although I liked the story, I was continually distracted by the movie’s shortcomings.
In this film we follow Gavin Stone, a former child actor whose career has fallen apart. After he throws a wild party and trashes a hotel room, he finds himself sentenced to community service. He gets assigned to menial labor at a church but would much rather be transferred to acting in the church’s upcoming Easter production instead—especially after seeing the lack of talent in the members of the company. However, the church will only use actors who are Christians, so to land the starring role of Jesus, Gavin lies and claims a faith that he doesn’t have. The ensuing humor of watching him stumble through a made-up personal testimony full of Christian buzzwords, and his awkward and cringe-inducing attempts to pass himself off as a true believer, distract from the difficult-to-believe situation of a megachurch with a huge Easter production not being able to vet potential members of the cast or to see through Gavin’s artificial faith. We, the film’s audience, can see through Gavin’s fumbling attempts at appearing Christian—so why can’t the members of Masonville Bible Church? I suppose fiction is stranger than truth sometimes.
Gavin experiences tension between his style and that of the play’s director, Kelly, who is also the Pastor’s daughter. The tension between them is the catalyst for much of the dramatic development in the film’s second act, despite this tension seeming forced at times. In fact, throughout the film, the supporting cast seems very one-dimensional, especially Gavin’s father, the stereotypical stern and distant father with a sad past, and the three guys who befriend Gavin and include him in their small group. Kelly’s assistant director is given no personality at all. However, despite the lack of character development, all the performances were very solid; the acting quality on view here is quite high. I will certainly be expecting more great things from Anjelah Johnson-Reyes, who plays Kelly; hers is the best performance in the film. (She also played the snarky hostess in Mom’s Night Out, and although she only appeared in one scene, she just about stole the show.)
Gavin and Kelly find that they are both laboring under the expectations of others; as Gavin tells Kelly, “They expect you to be perfect. They expect me to be the opposite.” We aren’t really shown if these two assertions are true, however, and this is another of the film’s weaknesses: it does a lot of telling where it could have done more showing. Gavin also seems to be able to understand the people of Masonville Bible Church in a way that Kelly, who has grown up in the church, can’t; he says to her at one point, “From what I’ve seen of the people here, I think if you admitted you’d made mistakes, they’d like you even more.” It is difficult for me to believe that Gavin can achieve this insight while Kelly can still feel so distant from her fellow church members, people among whom she’s lived her entire life.
There is a very predictable dramatic tensioning at the beginning of the film’s third act, when Gavin’s manager contacts him with an offer of a role on a TV show which has the potential of resuscitating Gavin’s floundering acting career. Will he dump his newfound friends in Chicago and fly to Los Angeles for a chance at stardom again? Of course, Gavin makes the right choice, but he goes through some significant soul-searching on the way to making that decision, which inspires the film’s subsequent events and resolution.
During this period of uncertainty, Gavin realizes there is something missing in his life; he is suffering from the stereotypical “God-shaped hole.” While acting as Jesus onstage at the Easter play, Gavin experiences a spiritual awakening / conversion, and the Christianity he has been faking becomes real for him. What does Gavin really become saved from, though? His ego and self-centeredness, most certainly—and although the film only implies how far Gavin’s self-destructive behavior had gone, it appropriately states the truth that all people, even those not sunk in the depths of sin, need a savior. From the outside, Gavin’s life might have seemed rather put-together—sure, he had a few setbacks, but he seemed to be handling things well enough, right? The actuality is that Gavin knew his own emptiness and realized that living for himself was insufficient. Although The Resurrection of Gavin Stone might stumble at times telling his story, the underlying message of the film—the God can save anyone, even if they don’t appear like they need saving—rings true in the end.
William Collen is a Christian art critic who writes about art of all kinds at ruins.blog. He can also be reached on Twitter at @william_collen. He and his family live in Omaha, Nebraska.