What If Jesus Told You to Have More Sex?05/19/2008
By Becky Garrison
After becoming ridiculously popular on the indie film festival circuit, Forgiving the Franklins comes to DVD today, two and a half years after its reception at Sundance made it look like a breakout hit. Instead it had only a brief theatrical run--in Greensboro, North Carolina, which is where the story takes place--and now hopes for new life via Blockbuster and Netflix.
Here's the setup. Meet the perfect Bible-believing Franklin family--lawyer dad Frank (Robertson Dean), mother Betty (Teresa Willis), football-playing pretty-boy son Brian (Vince Pavia) and potty-mouthed yet pious cheerleader daughter Caroline (Aviva). A fatal car crash en route to a church picnic sends Frank, Betty and Brian upwards to meet the Big Guy, while the daughter remains on earth, merely injured. As the heaven-bound Franklins wander around a surrealistic limbo, they encounter a very unorthodox Jesus (Pop DaSilva). For reasons that remain unclear, but in a very graphic manner (keep your eye on the apples for they will bear some most unexpected fruit), Jesus removes their Original Sin and sends the trio back to earth.
Pop DaSilva as Jesus
Once they wake up from their respective coma in varying states of bodily bliss, these liberated souls clash with their dutiful daughter, who now spends her personal prayer time cursing God for destroying her ability to praise Him with her cheers. What follows is not what you would expect. These are not your stereotypical Christians turned free-thinking hedonists. No siree. These three Franklins remain faithful, and they clearly relate to the God who breathed new life into them by allowing them to don new wineskins (that is, when they decide to actually put clothes on at all).
Love on the Rocks
Now here’s the moment where concerned parents might want to send the little kiddies out of the room unless you’re up for some serious explaining as to why Daddy might be puttering around the kitchen after midnight. Suffice to say that, thanks to the Franklins, and possibly to the houseboat scene in Nine and a Half Weeks, their entire community has gained a newfound appreciation for ice cubes. (A montage brings to mind the LaHaye marriage manuals of the 1970s, thus adding a whole new dimension to being Left Behind.)
Yet, despite a night of communal thawing, the family remains frozen apart from their Stepford-esque, spiritually superior neighbors, as well as the rest of the Christian community. And so the stage is set for an apple-pie ending that once again changes the perception we have of this Americana delight--apple pie, that is, not ice cubes.
Think of this film as the anti-Walden Media flick. If The Passion of Christ caused you to climax, spiritually speaking, then this part-morality tale, part-sex romp satire is not right for you. However, those who share director/screenwriter Jay Floyd’s disdain for ultra-conservative Christians with sugary Southern accents will enjoy this religious roller-coaster ride.
Despite the obvious Bible-Belt bashing, a thread of redemptive grace remains woven into the fabric of the film. Unlike some other filmmakers, who clearly have issues with the faith of their childhood, Floyd doesn’t descend into Dogma by trashing everything that smacks of godliness. According to Floyd, “I do not intend to lampoon Christianity at all. If anything, I wanted to lampoon zealotry. There are good Christians, and awful ones as well. Unfortunately, I think the corrupt kind has had control of the microphone for too many years now, and I think it's time for the other side--my side--to speak up again.”
This nuanced approach to a highly charged subject has already led to some efforts at reconciliation. Fellow Southerner Craig Deitweiler, director of Reel Spirituality at Fuller Theological Seminary, took a group of film students from Fuller and Biola University to see the premiere of this flick at the Sundance Film Festival. He became saddened by the depth of pain seemingly sincere Christians had caused, especially to the largely homosexual audience in attendance. During the Q&A, he stood up and apologized to Floyd for anything done to this homosexual filmmaker in the name of God. As Deitweiler recounted that evening, “The audience was literally disarmed. It went from a lynch mob to a love fest in an instant. The Holy Spirit swooped in, surprising us all. The moderator concluded the conversation. Audience members approached me afterwards with hugs. A lesbian couple thanked me. Gay men kissed me. One person said, ‘If that is true, I might consider giving religion a chance.’ Tears were shed far and wide. All it took were two little words: ‘I apologize.’” (Log on to www.purplestateofmind.com to continue this conversation.)
This movie reminds us in a rather twisted fashion that taking a bite of the alleged “forbidden” apple can enable one to be reborn into a life filled with grace. Just keep away from eating too much American Pie.