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.
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…
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.
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.