Saturday, December 22, 2007

Movie Report: What Would Jesus Buy?

I left the theater last night after having seen What Would Jesus Buy, not sure whether I had just watched a documentary or a fake documentary. It was that over the top.

It turns out it was a real documentary. There really is a man in New York City, Billy Talen, a cross between Elvis Presley and Jimmy Swaggert, who goes by the name "Reverend Billy," and has a church called "The Church of Stop Shopping." The Church has a website, and (what more proof do you need that it's really a church,) you can even donate money to it.

Fundamentalist Christians might have a little problem with the theology of The Church of Stop Shopping. In a New York Times article in 2000, (might require registration) Rev. Billy is quoted as saying, "We believe in the God that people who do not believe in God believe in. Hallelujah!" Hardly a sermon that will get many amens at your local Southern Baptist or Assemblies of God congregation.

Rev. Billy engages in street theater. The movie documents a road trip he and choir members from his church took to the gates of hell. The Mall of America, in Minneapolis, Wal-Mart and Disney are favorite targets of Rev. Billy's righteous wrath. He is quoted in the Times article as saying, "We are drowning in a sea of identical details. . . . Mickey Mouse is the Antichrist. . . . Times Square has been blown up by 10,000 smiling stuffed animals. . . . Don't shop, children, save your souls!"

Actually, as I understand the Bible, the message of the Church of Stop Shopping is entirely in line with the message of Jesus, who was about as anti-materialist as anyone could be. (I suppose the skeptics among us might say, "But Jesus is not a fair comparison; he didn't have to shop when he could turn five loaves and three fishes into a feast of thousands.") The real heresy is The "Gospel of Prosperity" preached in so many of the mega-churches these days.

Rev. Billy is backed up by a gospel choir who sings anti-shopping songs, and has been known to engage in a little anti-shopping glossolalia. (Try saying "I bought a Honda, but I should have bought a Hyundai" really fast several times if you want to practice your anti-shopping glossolalia.)

But despite my sympathies for Rev. Billy's message, the movie is flawed. It lacks focus or much dramatic interest, until the Church bus gets rammed on the interstate by a semi-truck. What one hears of the choir sounds good, but we are just given snippets of the singing without really letting the choir turn loose. The movie, like the church, is pretty much a one-man show, Rev. Billy, and he can wear you out pretty quickly.

The A.V. Club ranks the movie 14th in its list of the 16 worst films of 2007, a rating harsher than I would give it. (Interestingly, the A.V. Club lists Lions For Lambs as No. 7 on its list of worst films for 2007, a movie which I didn't much like, but to which I still gave three stars, which is an average rating.) I gave the movie three stars, while The Wife gave it only two. I thought it deserved the extra star for daring to be different, particularly in this holiday season. We have enough sappy stuff; it's nice to see something a little more daring, even if it falls short.

The real question, of course, is not what The Wife or I thought of the movie but what Jesus thought of it. I think he would give it five stars, bearing in mind that they really didn't get to watch many movies 2,000 years ago, so they would probably rate any movie highly.


T.K. said...

Your review was excellent, Crockhead. Personally, I gave up shopping a long time ago, so since I don't need to be saved, I think I'll skip the movie. I did check out the WWJB website though, and was reassured that the American economy is not in any real danger of collapse. Right there on the Rev. Billy's website was a link that said "Click here to order from Powell's."

Oh, the irony! :-D

Prairie Gourmet said...

I saw a tv interview with "Rev. Billy" and it was my impression that this whole gig is a gag. He's an actor playing a preacher and he's getting notoriety by "preaching" the anti-shopping mantra, so popular with this current wave of anti-consumerism. I think it's all very funny that many people are taking this guy seriously and actually donating to his "church."

Amishlaw said...

Thanks for stopping by, t.k. I think prairie gourmet's "gig is a gag" comment is spot on.