In 2004, Morgan Spurlock exposed the fast food industry by eating only at McDonald's for a month while his doctor monitored the disastrous toll that junk diet was taking on his beleaguered body. Now, Spurlock has stepped behind the camera to produce "What Would Jesus Buy?" a documentary which questions the degree to which America has commercialized Christmas.
The tongue-in-cheek road flick features Reverend Billy Talen, a colorful character who travels the country accompanied by the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir confronting frantic shoppers in malls right at the height of the holiday season. Declaring Mickey Mouse the anti-Christ, this flamboyant man of the cloth mounts a soap box to inform anybody who'll listen that "The Disney Company still presides over sweatshops all around the world."
Conducting impromptu man on the street interviews, he asks folks to have a conscience about their purchases. For example, he indicates that jobs in the U.S. are disappearing overseas because we can't compete against products being manufactured in Third World nations by people forced to work 19-hour shifts and only being paid slave wages.
Sadly, Reverend Billy's passionate pleas fall mostly on deaf ears and do little to discourage the determined consumers he encounters, despite his dire warning of the coming Shopocalypse. Instead, he's mostly treated as a nuisance by mall security and local police who routinely either arrest him or escort him off the premises.
Nonetheless, the movie does drive home a powerful point, namely, that Christmas has lost most of its religious significance and has come to revolve around gift-giving. Pointing out that most Christians spend more time worshipping retail items in malls than Jesus in church, he challenges believers to find something more meaningful to do than shopping.
He's supported in this endeavor by several experts, including Harvard Professor Dr. Alvin Poussaint who laments how since birth we've been "conditioned to associate material goods with the symbol of love." Ditto Reverend Andrew Young who makes a cameo appearance in which he reminds us of Christ's teaching to "Feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick."
But the real star of this show is the irrepressible Reverend Billy who, like a trim, bleached blond Michael Moore in a collar, makes scenes in front of stores such as Starbucks and Banana Republic, and even ventures to Walmart's headquarters to confront the mega-giant's CEO. A film as hilarious as it is thought-provoking, thus apt to keep you in stitches as you contemplate spiritual alternatives to material satisfaction.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 90 minutes
Studio: Warrior Poets Releasing