A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry is a straightforward Christian message film which promotes faith in God and Jesus, living in accordance with the teachings of The Bible, and the power of forgiveness. Set in 1970, the story involves a bully, a young boy's first crush, and the formative religious awakening of a group of 13-year-olds. It's focused on boys and their adult male mentors, leaving the only two featured female characters very much in the background. A sympathetic African-American man (the only person of color in the film) turns out to have had a troubled past. Spoiler alert: Near the end of the movie the unexpected death of a principal character impacts everyone.
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What's the story?
In a small town in 1970, Dustin (Jansen Panettiere) and his buddies are looking forward to a long summer filled with fishing and friendship. But Dustin is unsettled -- he has a serious crush on Tanya, a girl from school who works in her dad's cafe. It's hard to know just how to win her over. And there's a problem -- the neighborhood bully likes Tanya, too, and he's a classic tormentor. When Dustin encounters Jonathan Sperry (Gavin MacLeod), a kindly widower whose lawn needs mowing, he finds himself confiding in the older man and getting thoughtful advice. As their relationship builds, Mr. Sperry reveals that he is a devout believer in God, Jesus, and the Bible; he urges Dustin to embrace faith for answers to his questions and resolution to his problems. Soon Dustin has helped Mr. Sperry widen his influence with a growing, regular Bible study group attended by Dustin's friends. A sudden tragedy makes the summer even more transformational for the boys. By the film's end new paths have been forged, new goals have been set, and growing up has taken on new meaning with faith as its cornerstone.
Is it any good?
Earnest, simply-stated, and unabashedly advocating a Christian belief system,THE SECRETS OF JONATHAN SPERRY is a movie with purpose. Relying on a very thin story, heartfelt but amateurish performances by the young actors, and an unquestioning point of view, the film leaves no space for personal insights or thoughtful discussion of different attitudes or religions. The film is set in an idealized community that seems to have no relationship with the world as it was in 1970: everyone is clean-cut (even the bully), financially comfortable, safe, male-driven, and with one notable exception, white and Christian.
The filmmakers' intent is so strong that though they state early that the film is fiction, they end with a crawl describing what happened to the not-real characters in later years, all of whom found their calling in promoting Christian values. Probably best appreciated by those with a firmly Christian perspective.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the purpose of movies. Movies are made to entertain, educate, or persuade (or any combination of these elements). What is this movie's main purpose? Is it important for the viewer to understand a film's purpose? Why?
Why do you think the filmmakers chose to set this fictional movie in 1970? What about that period in our history, as opposed to modern day, did they feel would help them tell their tale?
- In theaters: September 18, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: May 4, 2010
- Cast: Gavin MacLeod, Jansen Panettiere, Robert Guillaume
- Director: Rich Christiano
- Studio: Christiano Film Group
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship
- Run time: 96 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: mild thematic elements
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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