Ready to feel like you’re back in the church basement eating pizza and listening to Stryper?
A new comedy from director Chris White is taking a look at 1980s Christian youth culture. Electric Jesus stars The Breakfast Club alum Judd Nelson and Brian Baumgartner of The Office in a film about a teenage Christian rock band figuring out fame. Baumgartner portrays their promoter, while Nelson’s sound engineer character is the film’s narrator.
DeWayne Hamby of Reel Faith says that the coming-of-age story, “may seem like a sendup at first, but White insists it’s more nostalgia.”
“I grew up in the Evangelical church, youth group culture and Christian music, part of that world,” White said. “We just we wanted to have fun with the characters not make fun of the characters. And I think that would be where we try to settle in on a tone that’s kind of nostalgic. It’s not a parody.”
Baumgartner, who also grew up in church youth group, attending Christian schools and listening to his “Mom’s favorite artist Amy Grant,” gives an unbridled performance as Skip, a man in over his head deeply entrenched in the film’s 80’s culture. His blunders provide several of the film’s more memorable and humorous moments. It might be easy to label him as a bad guy, but the actor explained he sees him as a man caught trapped by his own limits.
“Just because a character is pretending that doesn’t mean that the character is bad, but that the character is pretending and trying to hide these things that are going on inside,” Baumgartner explained. “But that doesn’t mean he’s not well-intentioned.”
White says his goal was to share a story set in the world he grew up in, a world that might seem strange to those outside it.
White has received positive reactions from those who grew up in youth group culture and even Christian musicians. The film isn’t “agenda-driven,” he says, but just a way to shine a light on a certain segment of the culture that he and many others happened to grow up in and love.
“A lot of times, I feel like that world I grew up in, nobody knows about it,” he said. “We were kind of goofy jokey teenagers, but we were also devout. We were serious about our faith. I know some people have not had good experiences with church or their youth group. I happened to have a really good one. But I even think people that are away from that or have distanced themselves from that can find a kind of nostalgic happiness in watching ‘Electric Jesus.’ I think it really does connect with a lot of people for a lot of different reasons.”
On the film’s Website, White continues:
I was raised by devout Southern Baptist parents and fully immersed in (and committed to) Evangelical Christian youth culture—which included Sunday School, Bible studies, summer camps, retreats, choir tours, ski trips—all of it set to an ‘80s Christian rock soundtrack.
This immersive religious culture is difficult to explain to many of my friends today—but it’s even more difficult to explain why I loved it. The fact that something so alien to most of the world is so vivid in my memory…and kind of embarrassing to talk about now… It makes me feel odd.
Just listen to a Christian hair metal anthem of the era—let’s say Stryper’s “To Hell With the Devil”—and you’ll start to understand. Honestly, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I revisit that time in my mind, but either way, there’s no looking away.
Electric Jesus toured the film circuit in late 2020 and during 2021, and is now available on Amazon Prime, Youtube and AppleTV, among other digital venues. Watch the trailer below:
Photo from ELECTRIC JESUS Original Motion Picture Soundtrack \ PROMO