Spring is upon us, which means flowers are blooming, love is in the air, and a slew of faith-based movies have come along to monetize the cultural capital of Easter. They range from jarringly unwatchable (God’s Not Dead: Light in Darkness) to somewhat emotionally adept (I Can Only Imagine) to, in the case of Come Sunday, ethically disoriented. While it offers up the seedling of a thoughtful conversation around grace and doubt, director Joshua Marston’s latest effort plays it too safe to be affecting.
After struggling with restrictive Christian ideals of mercy, evangelical bishop Carlton Pearson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) finds out how effortlessly he is able to stir up his congregation with a single question: how could a loving God condemn anyone to eternal damnation? Unwilling to accept that they might have to share the afterlife with heathens and ne’er-do-well, the integrated congregants of Tulsa megachurch Higher Dimensions don’t take kindly to Pearson’s new interpretation of the gospel. Subsequently, he finds himself ostracized by the religious community he’s worked so diligently to cultivate, including his long-time mentor (Martin Sheen) and close-knit business partner Henry (Jason Segel).
Come Sunday is certainly a film anchored by its performances. Ejiofor shoots for the moon, providing the character with a depth not provided on the page. With an actor as emotionally demanding as he is, tender excellence can become par for the course, but his portrayal of a doubtful disciple of God shouldn’t be taken for granted. The supporting players are nothing to scoff at either, like Condola Rashad and Lakeith Stanfield, who, despite not being offered much in the way of character arcs, give elevated resonance to otherwise boilerplate roles.
Unfortunately, the script never rises to meet to dramatic heft of the performers. Even though this story is inspired by a real-life account, it goes out of its way to weave in clichéd story beats. The film is based around a familiar structure, and it rarely finds the confidence to stray from the rigid path it follows so religiously. Joshua Marston’s (Maria Full of Grace, Complete Unknown) direction is so generic that it comes as no surprise when the film resolves itself with a schlocky freeze frame ending.
The unassuming script from Marcus Hinchey (All Good Things) maintains a sense of objectivity to a fault. It presents probing questions about the nature of organized religion, but it refuses to comment on them, presumably because it is too fearful of riling up any of its more touchy viewers. As a result, it is never challenging, allowing everyone to walk away with their preconceived notions wholly intact. No one is asking to be spoon fed, but the movie is too timid to take a stand of any kind. While it walks on eggshells, it swings wildly between the quizzical dissection of spiritual morality it could have been and the bumper sticker platitude it ultimately becomes.
Come Sunday’s faults could perhaps be overlooked if it put in the legwork of examining the implications of its core themes. It is a sensationalized depiction of religious fanaticism that doesn’t make room for ideological variance. There are lessons to be learned here, but neither Marston nor Hinchey seem to have any idea what they are. Come Sunday is hard to hate, but it’s even harder to love.