I attended Church confirmation when I was 13 years old. . We studied every Sunday in a hangout room filled with old recliners and couches. Some of the fellow students were past friends from Sunday school who I was already moving away from ‘knowing,’ having found my own hobbies and interests at the start of being a teenager. Youth Groups were gaining in popularity but hadn’t yet become my final straw in wanting to practice religion with other people ever again. I don’t remember much about what we talked about in those days, probably because I was busy reading the various bibles instead of participating in discussion (the one time I did, I got in trouble for suggesting evolution was compatible with God). One of the bibles I’d read was an annotated edition with ‘true stories’ to convey the lessons of the text. They were corny, but I enjoyed them more than talking to the other students.
Which isn’t to say I found much to value in those stories, but they were as over-the-top and silly as they were preachy. “So and so has a bad day at work, yells at his friend, and then realizes he was wrong because Jesus,” or, “So and so shot someone in the face but repented in jail, because of Jesus.” In the ensuing two decades or so, a cottage industry built around telling these types of stories pumps out Christian Fiction films consistently. I reviewed Assassins 33 A.D. (aka Resurrection Time Conspiracy) last year – it made my Top 10 – because its decision to pit a team of atheist time-traveling assassins versus Christ himself was both hilarious and a funny pathway to the standard Christian movie pablum. Most Christian movies fall into the trap of being too cute. Too preachy. Too lame.
Tulsa, which is directed by, written by, and starring Scott Pryor, is pretty cute, preachy, and lame. Tommy (Pryor) is a burnout biker whose life is turned upside-down when the precocious and devoutly Christian orphan, Tulsa (Livi Birch), is foisted on him by a social worker because she may be his long-lost daughter. Soon she’s pouring out his alcohol, while he’s adorably threatening bodily harm to the little girls who bully her at school. She changes him; he changes her; tragedy strikes; etc, etc, etc.
On the bright side, Livi Birch does a nice job! She has some funny lines, like when she tells Tommy that her late mother said “dancing leads to fornication,” in relation to a Daddy-daughter dance at school.
I didn’t learn much from being in confirmation class, but I did come away with an overriding sense that it’s not good form to be unkind. Writing at length about Tulsa feels unkind to Pryor, who clearly put a lot of love and effort into it. He’s not a particularly great actor, but he’s an adequate director. I have nothing nice to say about it, but I have very little mean to say about it, either. Frankly, it’s hard to find much to say about it. The Christian messaging gives it an identity and a future at faith-based film festivals, but I can’t imagine watching it in any other context. At two hours it’s just too long, too thin. If it was one of the books piled in my Sunday school room, I’d have put it down and struck up a conversation instead.