A nation divided by war, racial strife and economic inequality — not to mention intergenerational struggles between the young and old — provides the historical backdrop for “Jesus Revolution,” a dramatized account of the American revival movement of the 1970s.
The film — opening in theaters Friday and starring actors Kelsey Grammer, Joel Courtney and Jonathan Roumie — arrives on the heels of a 12-day continuous prayer meeting at Asbury University, a small Christian college in Kentucky, that drew thousands of visitors and national media coverage.
“I think we’re just in a similar time in our story, as a country where we’re just saying, ‘Where are the answers? Where do we get where do we go from here,” Jon Erwin, the film’s co-writer, co-director and co-producer, said Wednesday.
“I think no matter what political party you’re a part of, or if you worship or where you worship on Sunday, we’re all sort of in this same boat of like, ‘This isn’t working … we all hate each other.’ And it’s in this moment of a very divisive time.”
Mr. Erwin said he sees the “seeds” of a national spiritual awakening in what happened at Asbury.
“It just shows that we’re spiritually hungry, we’re hungry for answers.”
He believes something similar to the 50-year-old events portrayed in the movie “could happen again, and if it did, we’d be better for it.”
Notable to many filmgoers will be the appearance of Mr. Roumie, whose role as Jesus in the streaming TV series blockbuster “The Chosen” has brought him global attention. In this film, he plays hippie-turned-evangelist Lonnie Frisbee, who helped straitlaced pastor Chuck Smith (Mr. Grammer) understand disconnected young people and bring them into his church.
Mr. Courtney plays a young Greg Laurie, the evangelical leader who embraced the Christian faith as an alternative to a chaotic upbringing and became a key figure in the movement. Today, Mr. Laurie leads Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, and has a wide media following on Christian radio and television. He also has explored numerous aspects of popular culture, having written spiritual biographies of Steve McQueen and Johnny Cash and a 2022 volume noting Christian elements in the lives of four rock music legends.
Mr. Erwin said Mr. Roumie appreciated the chance to shift from portraying Jesus, the Son of God, to the extremely human Frisbee, who died of AIDS in 1993.
“It’s hard to play Jesus in a multi-season show because he is a flawless character, literally. And it’s hard to navigate that. I think it was a bit of therapy for him to play a character with many complexities and flaws,” Mr. Erwin said.
The writer/director said Mr. Roumie “is a truly exceptional actor. The level of character research and work he did in building Lonnie out as a character was unbelievable. He has a wonderful work ethic and an incredible gravitas and intensity.”
Mr. Erwin said he was drawn to the Lonnie Frisbee element of the “Jesus Revolution” story “because of the complexities of his character, the things he struggled with [and] the way in which he died.”
The hippie-preacher “had sort of been written out of the story, but you cannot deny that one of the great sparks of that movement was the relationship between Chuck Smith and Lonnie Frisbee.”
Mr. Erwin emphasized that despite his flaws, Frisbee’s contributions suggest God can use less-than-perfect individuals to advance a divine mission.
“The Bible is full of flawed people and I resonate deeply with that,” he said. “I think so many of us think that we can’t make a substantive contribution because we’re either disqualified, or unqualified, or whatever it is, and I just wanted to make a story that challenges that notion. … I hope people will see the movie and say, ‘Okay, I have a role to play as well.’”