Former child star.
It’s a phrase that communicates a lot in three short words, cultural shorthand for a species of entertainers whose fame-filled formative years have since morphed into something … less.
And it’s exactly what Gavin Stone is. The former child star of Family Life reaped fame and fortune for his role as Chippy on that sitcom, especially for his T-shirt worthy tagline: “Don’t look at me!”
But when the show ended and Gavin grew up—chronologically speaking, at least—that tagline became a sardonic prophecy sadly fulfilled. People weren’t looking at Gavin anymore. And when they did, it wasn’t because he was playing a beloved television character.
No, the only time Gavin shows up onscreen these days is as the subject of TV tabloid segments with clichéd cautionary captions like, “Where Are They Now?”
This former child star is back in his hometown of Masonville, Ill., now. And, as usual, he’s in trouble: After drunkenly trashing a hotel there, Gavin’s been sentenced to 200 hours of community service. To make matters worse, he has to live with his gruff, estranged father while he does his time: “You in trouble?” he father asks when Gavin shows up unexpectedly. “What’d you do this time?” Those accusatory questions hardly need an answer.
Gavin’s community service assignment seems to be about as far removed from his experiences as it could be: Masonville Bible Church. Gavin meets the pastor, Allen Richardson, and begins mopping up those 200 hours of service. Gavin hasn’t mopily mopped long, though, before he wanders past the megachurch’s large auditorium where there are drama auditions taking place. And it’s evident to him that the would-be cast is in need of some divine intervention itself.
Soon Gavin—who’s convinced he would be God’s gift to this amateur church production—is auditioning for the role of … Jesus. Never mind that he doesn’t know much about church or the Bible or the character he wants to play. Never mind that he lies to the pastor and his play-director daughter, Kelly, about being a believer.
No, never mind any of that. Gavin’s just desperate to be in the spotlight one more time—even if it’s in an Easter production at a local church. Little does he suspect that the role he covets will providentially shine its own penetrating spotlight on his broken life and needy soul.
Gavin is not without some self-awareness. He sees his life pretty clearly, at one point describing himself to Kelly as someone suffering from “petulant narcissism stemming from a robbed childhood where my every whim was indulged.” But he’s still determined to fix his life on his self-focused terms … until he’s challenged by Pastor Richardson, by Kelly and by his new friends in the production to begin thinking of other people’s needs instead of just his own.
When Gavin unexpectedly has an opportunity to re-engage with fame via a new TV show, he’s forced to grapple with what he really cares about the most. He—and we—see that his experience at the church has changed what he values.
Gavin has clearly had a difficult relationship with his father. But over the course of the film, father and son mend some old hurts, and Gavin comes to see his father—who’s still grieving the loss of his wife from many years before—in a gentler light.
Early on, Gavin displays a hodgepodge of Eastern-tinged spiritual practices. He does yoga with incense burning, and says, “I’m opening my chi.” His dad quips, “Enjoy your Buddhist ballet.” “It’s called yoga,” Gavin retorts.
Despite those practices, Gavin has no problem representing himself as a Christian when Pastor Richardson tells him that he has to be a believer to be in the church’s production. Gavin doesn’t know much about Christianity. But as an actor, he quickly learns how to mimic that culture’s way of speaking by watching YouTube videos. Gavin humorously (and incorrectly) appropriates all sorts of Christian jargon, often garnering a raised eyebrow or two along the way. At one point, he even grabs a handful of communion crackers, thinking they’re snacks, and gobbles them up. (The scene is played for laughs, but some may not be amused by the film’s use of the Lord’s Supper as a punchline for a silly joke.)
Kelly kind of likes Gavin, but she’s also suspicious of Gavin’s real spiritual beliefs. “I don’t think he gets the story,” she tells her father. “I’m still figuring it out myself,” her dad graciously responds. Elsewhere, the pastor wisely says of Gavin, “I think he needs us as much as we need him.”
Throughout the film, we hear the twin messages of grace and second chances, both of which are communicated and illustrated by the people at the church. Gavin doesn’t understand church culture at all, but he’s impressed by how his new friends’ faith impacts their lives. One of those guys, for instance, serves single moms by fixing up cars for them and giving them away—without seeking recognition. It’s an important moment that challenges Gavin to see that the Christian life is about loving and serving others sacrificially, not seeking glory for yourself.
Gavin doesn’t understand who Jesus is at first, thinking that the spotlight should be on Him in blazing glory. Kelly corrects him firmly, saying, “This is exactly opposite of who Jesus was.”
Eventually, Gavin is forced to confront the very truths that he’s speaking to the audience as he plays Jesus; it’s a journey that helps him to confess his own failings and his need for a Savior.
A light, innocent romance begins to blossom between Gavin and Kelly. At one point, Gavin’s dad suggestively asks if they’ve gotten physical: “You didn’t … ?” Gavin responds in horror at the suggestion: “No, no!”
Gavin portrays Jesus dying on the cross. He’s wearing a crown of thorns, and there’s blood on his face (which he wipes away offstage).
One use of “oh my gosh,” one of the put-down “stupid.”
News footage and sensational television tabloid stories allude to Gavin’s “bad boy” ways. Excessive alcohol consumption has been a self-destructive problem since the former child star’s youth. There’s also talk of Gavin having been to “rehab,” and his father somewhat accusingly asks if he’s “clean.”
Gavin comes home one night to see that his father has been drinking. There are several beer bottles on a table. Dad offers Gavin a drink, but he refuses. Elsewhere, Gavin tells Kelly that his reputation is such that people expect him “to act crazy,” and to get drunk—a reputation he’s often indulged and reinforced in the past.
We see a Hollywood TV show being filmed in a bar with people drinking and smoking.
Gavin maintains his deceptive charade as a Christian for a good chunk of the film.
Two words that secular culture often uses to describe Christians are judgmental and hypocritical. Too often the church isn’t seen as a place of grace or honesty, but as a place where hypocrites pretend to be better than they are.
The Resurrection of Gavin Stone turns those stereotypes upside down.
Gavin Stone is a narcissistic mess at first. He thinks he can pretend his way through an Easter play about Jesus and grab a little more glory along the way. But in portraying Jesus, Gavin comes face to face with his own shortcomings and sins, as well as the gaping spiritual void in his heart.
Meanwhile, Jesus’ teachings are also poignantly reinforced by the lives of the people Gavin meets at church. Those regular folks are not perfect. Sometimes they’re even a bit odd. But Gavin gradually realizes how having a relationship with Christ has helped them become people who give grace, people who understand that we all need a second chance—even prodigal former child stars who haven’t always made the best decisions.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.