The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry Movie Poster Image
Coming-of-age story with strong Christian messages.
  • PG
  • 2008
  • 96 minutes

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

This movie's intent is to encourage belief and participation in the tenets of Christianity. The film's opening frame declares: "The following story is fictional and was created to show how one person's faith may inspire others." Many religious messages follow, delivered by a kindly older man and later by the boys he influences: "The Lord is interested in everything in our lives"; "Everything in the Bible is there to make our lives better"; "Love your enemies; Do good to them that hate you," and more. There are multiple references to death, Heaven, and Hell. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

A strong Christian man is presented as an ideal role model. Jonathan Perry is generous, patient, wise, and forgiving. He is able to transform everyone he encounters; his goodness touches all, especially a group of 13-year-old boys at a formative time in their lives. Girls are on the periphery of the story. They're not included in any of the Bible study groups and we are never privy to their thoughts or feelings. The only African-American character, though sympathetic, turns out to have had a tragic and troubled past.

Violence
Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byPhilip C. July 31, 2016

More than a "church" movie

I agree with the professional review posted here: this film is unabashedly Christian in expressing the point of view that the Bible and Jesus will guide you th... Continue reading
Adult Written byJanice R. February 6, 2017

Moving story of love and forgiveness

This is a wonderful story about a man who mentors a fatherless boy in his community along with a few of his friends and eventually one of his enemies also. It... Continue reading

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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?

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