First released in 2008, The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry is a true rarity. It’s a Christiano feature film that’s actually not that bad.
The film takes place in 1970, with the implication being that it’s based on a true story. (The film ends with an epilogue, in which we learn what everyone did with their lives after the final scene.) Three adolescent friends are trying to enjoy their summer. One of them has a crush on the local waitress and is trying to figure out how to tell her. All of them are trying to avoid getting on the bad side of Nick and his gang. Nick is the type of bully who takes your last piece of pizza and then refuses to let you finish your game at the pinball machine. He is one bad dude.
Jonathan Sperry (played by Gavin MacLeod) is a nice old man who needs his lawn mowed. One of the three boys becomes his lawn guy and soon, all of them are hanging out at Mr. Sperry’s house. Mr. Sperry gives them lemonade and encourages them to read the Bible. At one point, he send the three of them on a race around the town, with the winner earning a piece of cake. The catch is that he gives each of the boys different directions in order to highlight that you can only get what you want (in this case, the Cake) if you have the right directions. Mr. Sperry explains that he’s teaching a lesson about how the only way to become a Christian is to read the Bible (i.e., only the Bible has the right directions). Personally, I would think that the two boys who didn’t get cake because they were intentionally given bad directions would have every right to be extremely upset with Mr. Sperry but this is a movie so they’re not.
Eventually, Mr. Sperry sends one of the boys over to his neighbor’s house. Even though his lawn looks awful, Mr. Barnes (Robert Guillaume) announces that he doesn’t want anyone to mow it for him. Eventually, of course, Mr. Barnes relents and reveals that he’s not quite as fearsome as everyone thinks. Meanwhile, Mr. Sperry takes it upon himself to minister Nick and Nick is also revealed to be not quite as fearsome as everyone thinks.
As I said, when compared to the other films that Rich Christiano’s been involved with, The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry isn’t that bad. While the message is a bit heavy-handed and I doubt the film is going to change the mind of anyone who doesn’t already share the filmmaker’s beliefs, The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry is well-acted and good-natured. (As opposed to other Christiano films, there’s very little talk of Hell or politics.) The film makes good use of its two veteran performers, with both Gavin MacLeod and Robert Guillaume giving believable performances as two men who are dealing with their own mortality in very different ways. In the end, the film may be about faith but it also celebrates friendship. It’s all done surprisingly well.