Every year, movies and series are released, and cast members show off their talents. Writers and directors showcase their creativity. Films and series are separated into roughly three groups: the truly talented, the potentially great, and the others. At Box Office Revolution, we believe it is our prerogative to annually recognize those entertainment creators and players who have the ability to bring revolution to Christian entertainment.
R. Scott Cooper is a struggling documentary film maker, but he gets a big break when an investor pays him to move his family to Georgia and go undercover as a local church member. While in disguise, Scott is supposed to record everything he sees using a special pair of glasses. However, halfway through the assignment, Scott and his wife begin to change their minds about the scheme as things in the small group aren’t what they thought. Will they have the courage to do what’s right before it’s too late?
Production Quality (2.5 points)
As a 2020 production, Small Group‘s is nearly flawless. Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are all on point. The sets, locations, and props are well-funded and well-utilized. There are no lighting problems, and the soundtrack is acceptable. The only thing keeping this section from being perfect is the poor editing, but this is likely a byproduct of a bloated plot. Hence, this section receives a high score.
Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)
Despite a somewhat forced premise, this narrative has a surprising amount of potential, starting with the mostly realistic portrayals of people in churches. Some comedic scenes are actually funny due to pretty good dialogue, and the writers raise a lot of legitimate points about institutionalized churches. Nonetheless, the storylines struggles with being more than just a collection of funny sequences that are strung together without specific focus. The ‘villain’ is a total strawman, and certain things happen because the plot requires them to, causing the characters to be swept away in the circumstances and hitting on all the expected points. Although there are too many characters and subplots to adequately focus on in one film, some scenes occur for no reason at all except to fill time. Trying to do everything at once causes the narrative to leave behind a lot of unfinished ideas; it feels more like a series than a movie as some elements come completely out of left field and don’t fit with the overall purpose (if there is one). The sheer amount of content in this story is overwhelming for the audience, and some humor is just ridiculously obnoxious. However, though the ending sequence is rushed and tends to magically fix its problems via unrealistic coincidences, the conclusion is better than the beginning if you make it there. Therefore, this sliver of potential, in addition to pretty good characters, keeps this section from being zero.
Acting Quality (2.5 points)
Much like its production, Small Group‘s acting is actually quite good. Though some cast members tend to have overdone lines and emotions, all performances get better as they go. As a whole, this section exhibits a lot of professionalism and rounds out a big mixed bag.
This screenplay’s central problem is that it can’t decide if it’s about hidden problems within the American church, quirks of American churchgoers, ministries and corruption in Central America, and people doing silly stuff together. Surprisingly, despite the jumbled plot, there’s actually hope for Small Group…in series form. There’s simply too much going on here to make a less-than-two-hour film. Had a series been made instead of a movie, this idea would have had more room to authentically develop. As it is, based on its heavy marketing push, Small Group unfortunately feels like another Christian entertainment cash grab.
Writer(s): Paul Munger, Sheila Munger, D. B. Hansen, Elizabeth E. Hansen
Director(s): Paul Munger
Producer(s): Paul Munger, Sheila Munger
Starring: Ashley Bratcher, Joseph Gray, Kendra Carelli, Brett Varvel, Kate MacCallum, Ella Dane Morgan, Bill Barrett, Sheilah Munger, Martin Peña, Giselle Torres, Chandler Macocha, Sterling Hurst, Mimi Sagadin, Jeannie Garcia, Joe Bunner, Rusty Martin Sr.?, Rusty Martin Jr.?
Plot Synopsis: Two expectant couples that are best friends face crushing upheavals in their lives which force them to make life-altering choices.
Tom has worked hard to become a regional manager, which is why he’s so disappointed when his self-absorbed boss lets him know that he needs a four-year college degree to achieve this position. Frustrated, Tom quits on the spot and decides to look into the property he inherited from his recently deceased father. His wife convinces him to take on his father’s old gas station business as their new source of income. Will they be able to handle the new business while patching up hidden family issues?
Production Quality (2.5 points)
One thing that can be said for newer Christian films, especially those in the last few years: no matter how forgettable or lame the plot is, the productions are absolutely getting better. Shifting Gears has a fine production without many issues, as evidenced by good video quality and camera work. For the most part, audio quality is fine, even though there are some loud portions of the soundtrack and some annoying sound effects, but these are the only issues with the production. It’s clear that time is spent on all aspects of the production, especially the sets, props, and locations that make this movie better than it would be without it. Overall, since the editing is also respectable, this is a high-quality production that unfortunately went wasted.
Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)
As such, it’s very hard to understand the actual purpose of this plot as it meanders around peppered with head-scratching cliches and under-developed characters. It borrows a lot of elements from a typical sports underdog plot combined with a return to hometown plot, which implies that there’s nothing creative going on here. The forced and cringe-worthy comedy elements and asides waste valuable time that could have been used to craft better dialogue, but we are only left with cheesy half-measures. The story is based on too many coincidences, and the Christian message comes off as plastic and manufactured. As many of the scenes are downright eye-rolling and funny for all the wrong reasons, it goes without saying that there is little to no point in making this movie with a plot this bad.
Acting Quality (1.5 points)
While some cast members are fairly over the top with their performances, they aren’t all bad since some of them are somewhat professional and seasoned in their work. However, some of the cast members are trying way too hard to be funny most of the time, and many emotions come off as painfully forced. Even so, despite the awkward and unsure moments, there are also plenty of good moments that make up for these, and this overall makes this an average section, which rounds out a below-average film.
It’s difficult to see all this good production go to waste when films that have better plots have worse productions. This is the plague of independent Christian film: if one thing works, another thing doesn’t. The cause of this is obviously a lack of proper collaboration. The writers need to be the writers, and the directors need to be the directors. Until creative-minded Christians lay down their differences and begin working together more, nothing much will change, unfortunately.