You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk’

A disjointed dramedy about the disillusionment of a young Jehovah's Witness who cannot resist sins of the flesh.

Eric Stoltz
Sasha Feldman, Paul Adelstein, Tara Summers, Shari Belafonte, Charlie Buhlet, Rob Giles, Lauren Lakis, James Karen, Reed Diamond, Rod McLachlan.
Release Date:
Feb 24, 2018

1 hour, 36 minutes

Warning: While watching “Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk,” a coming-of-age dramedy about the disillusionment of a hormonally inflamed young Jehovah’s Witness during the mid-1980s, you may periodically find yourself fearing that you nodded off, or blacked out, and missed key scenes of transition or contextualization. Making a disappointingly inauspicious debut as a feature filmmaker (despite considerable experience helming episodic television), actor-turned-director Eric Stoltz lurches from scene to scene with scant regard for remedying narrative gaps or inconsistencies of characterization. It’s almost as though, while adapting his own novel for the screen, screenwriter Tony DuShane simply provided a random sampling of highlights from his book, and Stoltz accepted the slapdash scenario as his overarching game plan.

Gabe (Sasha Feldman), the eponymous protagonist, is introduced as a 16-year-old high-schooler who’s not yet rebellious, but no longer unquestioning, as he grapples with demands placed on him by his parents and his church in their Utah community. He’s at that point in adolescence where it takes little more than a glimpse at ads for women’s undergarments in a Sears catalog to trigger masturbatory fantasies. At the same time, however, he’s been so successfully guilt-tripped by his upbringing that, even when his aggressively naughty cousin Karen (Lauren Lakis) bares her breasts and invites him to cop a feel, he is unable to act upon his urges.

Gabe sincerely wants to be on the right side of the angels, along with mom and dad, when the day of Armageddon arrives. On the other hand, he and his like-mined friends, who have correspondingly ambivalent attitudes about their standing as devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, enjoy drinking and misbehaving now and then. But their lust for the most part is assiduously regimented: In the not-so-distant future, after they’ve accepted marriage and responsibility, they will be upstanding suburbanites in the best of all possible worlds. “We’re going to have barbecues,” Gabe promises a buddy, “in between having sex with our wives.”

“Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk” follows Gabe over a year or so of crises large and small. His demanding father (Paul Adelstein), is a church elder, and in that capacity he must offer advice and pass judgment while counseling possibly errant members of the flock. (In the movie’s funniest scene, he receives the confession, delivered during a telephone conversation, of a husband who claims he “accidentally” sodomized his wife.) Dad is quick to relentlessly interrogate Gabe whenever he suspects his son may be contemplating a sin of the flesh — like, when Gabe is spotted holding hands with a girl at a school. (The movie repeatedly indicates that snitching is considered a sacrament among Jehovah’s Witnesses.) But his father is helpless to prevent other elders from temporarily “disfellowshipping” Gabe (causing him to be shunned by peers) as punishment for the grievous sin of spending the night under the same roof (albeit in a different room) with an inebriated female classmate.

Here and there, Stoltz indicates there are darker dimensions to his characters: Gabe’s father has serious anger issues, his mom is a closet alcoholic, and Karen casually admits that her father has sexually molested her. But these hints remain nothing more than teasingly underdeveloped allusions. Likewise, there’s never any explanation given for the repeated willingness of Gabe’s deeply religious father to OK his son’s frequent trips to San Francisco, a place dad is said to view as a moral cesspool. The movie proceeds in an annoyingly arbitrary fashion until, instead of drawing to an emotionally and dramatically satisfying conclusion, it merely stops.

Interspersed among the disjointed episodes are snippets of what appear to be interviews with older Jehovah’s Witnesses, most of whom seem to uncritically accept the demands of their faith. Any similarity between these segments and the “testimonies” offered throughout Warren Beatty’s “Reds” probably isn’t coincidental. But that doesn’t make them any less discordant here.

Film Review: 'Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk'

Reviewed online, Houston, Feb. 20, 2018. Running time: 96 MIN.

Production: An Indie Rights release of a Trees of Shade production. Producers: Kenneth Hughes, Craig Dow, Leah Steiger, Eric Stoltz. Executive producer: Denise Fedorchuk.

Crew: Director: Eric Stoltz. Screenplay: Tony DuShane, based on his novel. Camera (color): Gavin Fisher. Editors: Darren Ayres, Doc Crotzer. Music: Brian Byrne.

With: Sasha Feldman, Paul Adelstein, Tara Summers, Shari Belafonte, Charlie Buhlet, Rob Giles, Lauren Lakis, James Karen, Reed Diamond, Rod McLachlan.

More Film

  • Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman Starring in

    Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman Starring in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' for Netflix

    Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman will star in the movie adaptation of the play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” for Netflix. George C. Wolfe (“Lackawanna Blues”) will direct from a script by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, based on the award-winning play by August Wilson. Other cast include Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo (“If Beale Street Could Talk”) and Michael Potts. Denzel [...]

  • Crazy Bitches

    Why the CASE Act Will Empower Creatives to Fight the Horrors of Piracy

    Our horror film, “Crazy Bitches,” was released on Valentine’s Day 2015. We invested in an online marketing campaign that resulted in two times the industry clickthrough rate and 2.6M social media impressions in the week leading up to the release. So, we had reason to expect a successful return. What we didn’t count on was [...]

  • Alamo Drafthouse LA

    Alamo Drafthouse to Open in Downtown Los Angeles in July

    The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain is planning to open its first Los Angeles location with a “soft launch” in early July in the city’s downtown. The Texas-based chain, which has 38 locations, specializes food and drink service with unique programming. It announced Wednesday that the Los Angeles site, located at the Bloc, would offer an [...]

  • Max Landis Dropped by Manager Following

    Max Landis Dropped by Manager Following Sexual Assault Allegations

    Max Landis has been dropped as a client by his manager, a day after sexual assault allegations emerged against the  screenwriter. “I do not represent Max Landis,” Britton Rizzio at Writ Large Management told Variety in a statement. Landis is facing allegations of sexual abuse and psychological manipulation from eight women who told their stories [...]

  • Fox Layoffs

    Another Round of Layoffs Hit Disney and 20th Century Fox Film Divisions (EXCLUSIVE)

    Another round of layoffs are going down for employees merged in Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, individuals with knowledge of the company told Variety. The Wednesday reduction is the smallest round the studio has enacted since formally acquiring the film and TV assets of 20th Century in March, with a few dozen employees being [...]

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda

    Netflix Lands Lin-Manuel Miranda's 'Tick, Tick... Boom' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Following a heated bidding war, Netflix has walked away with the rights to “Tick, Tick… Boom,” a musical adaptation to be directed by “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Sources say Andrew Garfield is the top choice to star, though no deal is done. “Dear Evan Hansen” writer Stephen Levenson adapting the script based on the original [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content