By Dr. Charlie W. Starr
I don’t usually get to review movies before they come out. Typically, when you hear from me about a movie, it has been out for three months or more and is heading toward its DVD release. But last spring I got the opportunity to meet Joe Boyd from Rebel Pilgrim Productions and see his upcoming movie, A Strange Brand of Happy. I’d like you to consider going to see it when it comes out in theaters on September 13.
Joe Boyd is a strange brand of Christian. He has spent time as a stand-up comedian, an actor, a moviemaker, and a minister. His last church gig was a teaching ministry at the 6,000 member Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati. In 2005 Joe founded Rebel Pilgrim Productions with a single purpose in mind: “We have one simple goal: to tell stories that change people.” This is the end toward which Rebel Pilgrim has been working ever since. Since its founding, the company has made five feature films, and one of these is about to be released in movie theaters around the nation.
A Fun, Funny Love Story
Can Christians do romantic comedy? A Strange Brand of Happy is Rebel Pilgrim’s move to say yes. It’s the story of a guy named David (played by Joe Boyd) who gets fired from his job and falls in love with Australian yoga teacher and life coach Joyce (played by contemporary Christian music star Rebecca St. James). Joyce also happens to be a believer. But David finds that his ex-boss, the guy who fired him, is vying for the attention of the same woman.
Our hero, who looks like a “tired Ray Romano,” has no faith in God at all. But when he’s not shooting paint balls at a statue of a medieval knight or shooting cheese balls into his roommate’s mouth with a Lego catapult, he follows his lady love around on her attempts to reach out to others. She does this via hosting art house performances and volunteering at a senior citizens home where much wisdom resides among the elderly residents—along with numerous wisecracks by an old curmudgeony Shirley Jones (that’s right, the mom from The Partridge Family).
A Strange Brand of Happy is not a perfect film. The acting is uneven and the comedic timing is sometimes off. It borders on becoming preachy, and some of the religious discussions get awkward and lose their authenticity. But at least twice the exploration of God rises to a level that captures the imagination. These moments are poetic, like modern psalms. There are some laughs in the movie, and you may tear up a little at the end. Production values in the film are good, but what is really valuable is the movie’s goal of speaking to a non-Christian audience—to those who can’t understand the language of “church” or the Bible. Strange Brand reaches out to the unchurched, and that is worthwhile indeed.
What You Can Do to Help
As a movie that attempts some mirroring of our culture, this one is not 100 percent family friendly. The jokes and language aren’t crude, but some parts border on the risqué (though with a great deal of restraint). For high school age (possibly junior high) and older Christians, this movie is very watchable.
Distributing a Christian film is a hard thing to do—lots of money is required. In order to avoid prohibitive costs, Rebel Pilgrim is taking the grass roots approach to distribution. You can help by getting people in your town interested enough in the film to start asking your local theaters to show the movie. Or you might contact Rebel Pilgrim about arranging a special showing of the film for your church (check out their website at rebelpilgrim.com).
I have paraphrased C. S. Lewis many times in the past regarding something he said about Christians and the arts. Applied to movies, it might read something like this: “We don’t need Christian movies so much as we need Christians making movies.” The folks at Rebel Pilgrim Productions have taken a first step toward that very thing. I think if we encourage them with our interest and patronage, their story telling can make a difference.
Dr. Charlie W. Starr teaches English, humanities, and film at Kentucky Christian University in Grayson, Kentucky.