Arts Alliance America // 2007 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // June 5th, 2008
The movie Santa doesn't want you to see!
What Would Jesus Buy? is a documentary that follows a performance artist named Reverend Billy (Bill Talen) as he and a choir spend a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas touring and protesting the commercialization of the holidays. Interspersed with their rallies in Walmarts and Disneyland there are talking-head interviews with various economic experts and religious leaders who chime in about the issues of overspending and too much credit card usage. The film is a fast, fun look at a man who sees Starbucks, Walmart, and Disney as the devils in America that are ruining our country faster than any other force. The film was produced by Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), but directed by Rob VanAlkemade (a documentary film cinematographer), yet it retains Spurlock's signature feel including odd animation bits to transition subjects and a swift comical editing style. What Would Jesus Buy? is an entertaining hour and a half that makes you wonder what Christmas was like before shopping malls, Tickle Me Elmo, and video games.
Reverend Billy's Church of Stop Shopping remains an enigma despite being the center of this film. The movie follows their tour and shows us many of their performances, but it never explains much about their founding or logistics. We aren't given much background about the main man or his disciples who seem to be spending a ton of money on gas, hotels, and meals to protest consumerism in malls, make free appearances in churches, and not seem to be raising money anywhere they go. I wondered, how do they do all of this? They are a talented group of performers who sing and dance better than most church choirs could ever hope to. There's even a scene where the tour bus is involved in an accident, 13 members go to the hospital, and the tour goes on. They may be simple singers and dancers, but that kind of dedication takes a lot of faith in their message. They are all involved in a theatrical production that takes them from stages, pulpits, stores, and cemeteries to the streets. They take people by surprise, often baffling them much more than driving the message of shopping as an addictive cancer agent home. They are great to watch, though, and I was amazed at the level of professionalism they bring to each appearance.
The essential information points out Americans blindly buy because we are told to, and we're raised to associate Christmas and even "the war on terror" with consumerism. Is it really our spiritual and patriotic duty to fight with a group of desperate parents over the last Nintendo Wii at the local Toys 'R Us? Do we ever think about what we are buying and where it is made? We support China's economy more than our own, and look to Walmart to provide cheap, politically incorrect products. What Would Jesus Buy? is asking us to take a look at what we're doing and why we're doing it. What is frustrating, though, is the film doesn't offer much advice on how to make a difference or how to honestly "stop shopping." The brief suggestions include buying American-made products, shopping at local stores, and avoiding the big corporate establishments. All of that is easier said than done, as it would mean I should drive another car, get rid of my iPod, get a new computer, and refuse many electronics. The documentary raises more questions than it answers.
The DVD is straightforward, offering the film and a handful of deleted sequences as extras. Transfer is widescreen with a simple stereo soundtrack. Everything is crisp and clear without any glitches, but the film was shot on the fly and it looks like it. I wish they had some more information on The Church of Stop Shopping, but that's just left to the feature to explain. Check out the "Accomplices" section to the right with a link to the official site of the group if you would like to learn more. I find it ironic the film is going to be mass marketed as a DVD that will be sold in the very stores it was protesting. Personally, I plan to head to Walmart and sing hymns over it as soon as it appears in the bargain bin. I giggled as I realized most every one will have to sin against the teachings of the Church of Stop Shopping to get their hands on this DVD. I suggest buying it through the link up on the right through Amazon. At least then you won't be seen sinning.
What Would Jesus Buy? is an entertaining documentary railing against the sins of consumerism and the commercialization of Christmas. I feared it might be offensive to Christians, but it's aimed solely at the ridiculousness of what we do in the mall rather than in the church. The most touching moments include a homeless man who gets a room for Christmas, kids who realize their parents spoil them, and older Americans who remember a time when candy and clothes were enough to make them happy. The film made me think about how tied we all are to having certain things that never last, and how much we are defined by plastic junk that we don't even have room for. I'm a prospective member of the Church of Stop Shopping, but it would mean I couldn't buy the DVD from Amazon. So maybe I'll settle for being a Methodist, and just think about what I really need this next holiday season. Boy, is my family lucky I watched this one! Imagine their joy as this year they unwrap oranges and mittens from me. I just hope I can keep that Nintendo DS I asked my mom for.
This one makes you feel guilty, so I believe the verdict is on the viewer this time around.
Review content copyright © 2008 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Arts Alliance America
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site for The Church of Stop Shopping