Can Praise This Break the Church-Movie Curse?

A "Why Does Hollywood?" Post
by Logan Gion

If you’ve been scrolling through Peacock lately, you may have watched a trailer for Praise This, basically a Gospel Pitch Perfect. It promises to be funny, uplifting, and entertaining–all while being spiritual. Audiences who are neither religious nor raised religious may have passed this movie by, but for everyone else, the subtextual premise is intriguing. Praise This wants to be that movie youth-group kids WANT to watch.

Long have religious movies been capped by audience limits, and Lord knows I’ve personally heard churchgoers bemoan Hollywood’s “anti-religious bias.” Praise This deserves attention, then, for trying multiple innovative methods to appease those on both sides of the aisle. It positions itself as a Christian movie that can be enjoyed by secular audiences too.

Below, I’ll go over the movie’s summary, what issues it successfully reconciles, and where it could use some saving grace.


What’s Praise This about?

Sam is enraged at her father who’s uprooted her life in Los Angeles and moved her to Atlanta during her gap year (a cover for her trying to break into the SoCal music scene) between high school and college. She’s forced to stay with her cousin, Jess, and her churchgoing relatives, Uncle Larry and Aunt Liz.

After some truly trying moments of cultural adjustment, Sam sneaks into a party, hosted by rapper T.Y. using her unsuspecting cousin’s goodwill. The police break up the party, but Sam “leaves her jacket,” covering up the rapper’s weed stash.

Larry and Liz tell Sam that, to atone for lying and taking advantage of Jess, she must join their church’s praise team. The team is… not good, but Sam begins to use her music-production skills and powerhouse voice to improve the group’s ability. Meanwhile, Sam leverages the favor T.Y. owes her to get an audition. He takes a liking to her, so Sam begins to be pulled in different directions. Will she choose her praise group or her industry contact? If only the Bible had advice on serving multiple superiors…


What does Praise This get right?

  • Its distribution strategy is smart: Since Peacock is a streaming service, Praise This can easily attract those on the fence. Getting dressed up, going to a theater, and buying the ticket are hurdles curious viewers can skip. Audiences willing to take a chance on content they normally wouldn’t have a lot fewer reasons to say no.
  • Its protagonist is believably flawed: Far from being a stock “too cool for school” character, Sam has legitimate reasons to be angry at her dad, uninterested in God, and predisposed to vice. Her mom, who was also her best friend, got horribly ill and died. God was silent during the ordeal, so Sam gave Him the silent treatment too. Since her mother inspired Sam to pursue music, Sam wants to break into the industry ASAP, by whatever means necessary. She’s so hungry, in fact, T.Y. even tells her to slow down and respect herself. Seeing Sam learn to value her praise-group friends, confront her inner demons, and reach peace with her mom’s death–all while progressing at a natural pace with her spiritual beliefs–was refreshing, realistic, and honest.
  • Praise This righteously calls out hypocrites: Many characters in the movie who’ve “found God,” are greedy, condescending, controlling, and judgmental. These toxic traits turn people off of ANY belief system and are the source of many people’s displeasure with Christianity. A slimy megapastor, a two-faced group leader, a gossipy congregation member–Praise This brings all these types into the light and reads them for filth.
  • It’s not boring or square: Praise This manages to capture about 80% of Pitch Perfect‘s bizarre shock comedy. Some lines, especially one about an OnlyFans account, land, while others are culturally specific. I personally thought that the two Statler-and-Waldorf-esque “Auntie” characters’ who comment on each performance were a riot. A family member watched with me, however, and laughed at about half of their lines. Your mileage may vary.
  • The soundtrack also feels current: Featuring Gospel-flipped versions of Lizzo and Cardi B alongside neat arrangements of traditional hymns, Praise This definitely has musical acumen. The rapper character T.Y. also feels authentic, in large part because Quavo, an actual rapper, plays him.
  • Praise This deftly addresses sexism and racism: Tina Gordon, director of Drumline, directs the movie; her Black, female perspective goes a long way towards negating the usual gender and ethnicity concerns in faith-based fare. Her nuanced take regarding Sam’s eagerness to use her body to achieve her dream is thoughtful and healthy. There are many other moments where women uplift each other despite personal indiscretions or opposing beliefs, the best incident coming towards the climax when Sam’s praise group is sickened by the slut-shaming a rival member receives. Likewise, there are two Black male characters who give off sketchy vibes only for Praise This to subvert those expectations, forcing the audience to examine their prejudices.

Where does Praise This fall short?

  • Not every viewer will hear their problems addressed: Jess’s moral-based OCD goes unresolved, agnostics and atheists can convincingly argue that a person doesn’t need God to be righteous or moral, and LGBTQ+ characters are nonexistent. To be fair, however, many of these issues are beyond the scope of a 100-minute movie. Hopefully, these issues can be tackled by films standing on the shoulders of this one.
  • Not all of the comedy works: Jess, the cousin, feels overacted and forced. It’s a shame, too, since she gets many of the best lines, and Sam’s actress (Chloe Bailey) plays an excellent straightman).

My Main Gripe

You know that part in Alien when the guy starts eating breakfast after he’s been face-hugged the night before? He says he’s fine, and the crew believes him, but you just know something bad is going to happen? I felt that with the cool, young pastor character, P.G.

The movie tries way too hard to make him “down with the youths”: He used to boost cars, but then he found God; He’s married to a hot lady, so he knows about sex stuff; His flock is in a converted factory, so he doesn’t run a stuffy church. It’s all smoke and mirrors. You know it, and I know it. He’s gonna give us sermons, and we’re gonna have to listen to them.

The foundational flaw with faith-based films has always been and is currently this: PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO GO TO CHURCH IF THEY WERE PROMISED A MOVIE!

Certainly, movies can inform, persuade, and discuss opposing viewpoints and belief systems, but don’t trick your audience into learning about God. Firstly, if Jesus really is Lord, then he doesn’t need underhanded tactics to spread the Good News. Secondly, even a good message sounds bad if the recipient feels betrayed.

The most frustrating part of the the big sermon scene is that it could’ve been altogether cut! Immediately before, the characters confessed their secrets, rallied together, and reformed their team. They were ready for the championship. Then the movie chokes as one of its characters becomes a didactic mouthpiece who chest-bursts the narrative and reveals the content’s true purpose: Church. You’ve been in church the whole time.

In this moment, Praise This becomes just like it’s protagonist–bound to two rulers, mainstream and Christian hardliners.


So, does Praise This break the curse?

No. While it addresses many flaws mainstream audiences have with faith-based movies, Praise This just can’t seem to overcome the genre’s core problem.

It’s not, however, a wasted effort. Its perspective and (most) of its execution is laudable. I sincerely hope it heralds Christian films so amazing and accessible that Praise This wouldn’t even be worthy to… well, you get it.

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