Reviewed by: Ryan McLelland

I’m going to admit that the one and only one thing that drew me to Confession of a Teenage Jesus Jerk was actress Lauren Lakis.  I think Lauren is such an amazing talent both on screen and in the music world.  When I found out she was in this film I knew I had to track it down and watch it.  Luckily for me, this newly released film is available free for Amazon Prime members so I was able to just sit down, turn on Amazon Prime, and watch the film.

I don’t think I was really prepared for what I was about to see.  I went in cold.  I  could have found out more about the film or perhaps watched the trailer.  But did it really matter?  It has Lauren Lakis in it so I’m going to watch it anyway regardless of the content.  But this content is pretty fucked up here and introduces me to the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religion I’ve known about since I was a kid but never took the time to try and understand what they are about.  In Confessions we learn about the Jehovah’s Witnesses culture and religion but none of it ever seems appealing to me in the least.  As a matter of fact, after watching this film, I really never want to speak to another Jehovah’s Witness again.

While the film may have an air of fiction, the book that the film is based on is said to be autobiographical.   Tony Dushane penned the book of the same name though the main character’s name seems to have been changed from Tony to Gabe.  I’m not sure if all of what happened actually occurred to him or if it is just an amalgam of Tony’s own life and those he grew up with.

Sasha Feldman plays Gabe, a horny 16 year old kid deep entrenched in the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion.  His father, his mother, and his friends are all Jehovah’s Witnesses and the religion really controls the every day lives of those who follow it.  Everything seems to be a sin including sex before marriage and masturbating.  Gabe doesn’t give a crap about the masturbation thing.  He does it as often as possible whether he’s whacking it to a Sears catalog or thinking of a cute girl at school he really has a thing for.  Gabe knows it is a huge sin but he doesn’t care.  His libido is going nuts, all the girls he goes to school with have developed these amazing breasts, and the poor kid can’t handle the influx of testosterone.

Anything beyond masturbation Gabe doesn’t seem to have a real handle on.  Talking to the opposite sex doesn’t really work well for him so he is unable to carry on a decent conversation.  Lauren’s character Karen comes in pretty early though the scene plays out of order with the rest of the film – sort of a flash forward.  Karen gets Gabe drunk and takes him up to the roof.  There she pulls her top down and tells Gabe to touch her breasts.

What I didn’t mention here is that Karen is Gabe’s first cousin.  She’s a wildcat and doesn’t give a fuck about much, even that Gabe being her cousin.  Poor Gabe is scared out of his mind in regards to touching breasts.  Forget that Karen is even his cousin.  He’s just having a tough time wrapping his head around the concept of touching some soft breasts.  He’s your average horny kid in high school who is slightly more repressed thanks to his religion and the time he is growing up in (the movie takes place in the early 1980s).

Gabe attends a high school that is predominately filled with Jehovahs Witnesses.  He doesn’t have many close friends but does have Peter (Nicholas Harsin) and Kien (Kit DeZolt).  Peter is the one who likes to have a bit more fun than Kien, who will break the rules but rat his friends out in a second to save his own skin.  Gabe also has a big time crush on Jasmine (Charlie Buhler) and, at times, it seems like that crush is reciprocal.  Then she gets engaged to be married and everything just goes south for poor Gabe.

Throughout the film, Gabe finds himself in situations where he tries to do the right thing but still finds himself not trusted by the elders of the church and punished.  His father (Paul Adelstein) is very strict on the rules in his house, feeling that the church’s rules should be followed to a T.  Gabe’s father has no problem beating his wife or having parishioners describe, in detail, their sinful adventures into anal sex, because the man feels he is breaking no church laws.  Basically any religion at its finest.

I would say this film is a year in the life of Gabe but it isn’t as easy to tell when time is passing, something that was done so well in last year’s Lady Bird.  The plot seems to move from situation to situation without much cohesive storytelling in-between.  This hinder Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk greatly and stops it from being a fantastic film.  I’m going to put blame solely on three people: Darren Ayres and Doc Crotzer (the film’s editors) and author Tony DuShane, who adapted his own novel to the big screen.  Between these three men there should have been a better film.  Now I haven’t read the source material but from all the reviews I’ve read about the novel, it really sounds like a slam dunk.  This film adaptation was not.  I think most of the parts for a great film were there but the screenplay and/or the editing ultimately stops this flick from being a classic.

There’s a ton of good and I’ll start with the performance of Sasha Feldman as Gabe.  Sasha did such a wonderful job capturing that teenage angst, horniness, and general unsureness of your average sixteen-year-old male.  He’s a kid who is trying to do the right thing at times and just finds himself in trouble time and time again – most of the time for not even doing the thing he is getting in trouble for.

I watched this film primarily for Lauren Lakis and her role of Karen.  Lauren truly didn’t disappoint.  Karen is a free spirit who loves hooking up with her cousin, doing anything and everything that is against the rules, and basically doing whatever the fuck she wants.  She is the film’s Id and shows us what life can be like for Gabe if he just broadens his horizons.  There is one truly messed up scene that occurs late in the film between Lakis’ Karen and Feldman’s Gabe that really had me saying, “Wow.  That is truly fucked up.”  But I guess it is all part of the growing pains and sheltered life of our teenage Jehovah’s Witness.

The film was directed by actor Eric Stoltz well known for his acting roles in Pulp Fiction, Some Kind of Wonderful, Jerry Maguire, and, my personal favorite, Mask.  Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk is one of two Stoltz directed films to be released in the past year, the other a romantic comedy called Class Rank starring Olivia Holt.  I thought Stoltz was a pretty great director and thought the film moved along rather well.  If anything hindered the film it was the script by Tony Dushane, which I’ll touch on again briefly.  I stated earlier that he adapted the screenplay from his own book but the screenplay just felt a bit too rushed and condensed.  Now the book could be the same exact way and I don’t have a clue because I haven’t read it yet.  Even if the book is the same way, the screenplay could have used a bit more polish in my humble opinion.  It’s what stops Confessions of a Jesus Jerk from being outstanding.  On the plus side, I do look forward to seeing more Stoltz directed films in the future.

Overall I had fun with the film and enjoyed many of the performances, especially Sasha Feldman and Lauren Lakis.  While it didn’t completely blow me away I did enjoy the peek into a religion that I didn’t know much about and how that religion affects those who follow it.  It is not easy and the film does a good job of conveying that.  I do think, at this point, I am interested enough to go out and seek the source material.  Something tells me that, in reading the original novel, I’ll be in for more of a treat.


If the movie sounds like something that is up your alley, it is still free to watch if you are an Amazon Prime member.  If you are a member, you may want to add it to your queue.Follow us on Twitter:
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