Today’s Prayer Focus

The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry

MPA Rating: PG-Rating (MPA) for mild thematic elements.

Reviewed by: Scott Brennan

Moral Rating: Excellent!
Moviemaking Quality:
Primary Audience: Adults
Genre: Christian Drama
Length: 1 hr. 36 min.
Year of Release: 2009
USA Release: September 18, 2009
DVD: May 4, 2010
Copyright, Five & Two Pictures / Resurrection Pictures, photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Five & Two Pictures / Resurrection Pictures, Inc. Copyright, Five & Two Pictures / Resurrection Pictures, Inc.
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Featuring Gavin MacLeod, Jansen Panettiere, Robert Guillaume, Frankie Ryan Manriquez, Allen Isaacson, Taylor Boggan, Mary Jean McAdams, Bailey Garno, Kristina Jewell, Cameron Bloomer, Tommy Pasko, Eva Mancarella, Dina Corsetti, Peter Doyle, Kyle Prohaska
Director Rich Christiano
Producer Christiano Film Group, Rich Christiano, Chad Gundersen
Distributor Five & Two Pictures / Resurrection Pictures, Inc.

“What he teaches them… will last forever.”

informationOfficial site:

The film, “The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry,” set in a small town in upstate New York in 1970, is truly a stunning success for the Christian-crossover genre of films like “Fireproof,” a more recent winner in the secular market. The director, Rich Christiano, also co-wrote the film with his brother Dave, both of whom have been producing, writing, and directing films since the late 1980’s. This is undoubtedly their best film to date.

The casting is impressive! How they were able to find boys, in 2009, with that Timmy-Martin-look-of-innocence (from “Lassie”), who also had the pleasant personalities of the Douglas brothers in “My Three Sons” or even the Cleaver brothers (“Leave it to Beaver”) is a fait accompli. They are truly talented young actors, especially Jansen Panettiere, who were ably supported by the seasoned performances of Gavin Macleod and Robert Guillaume.

This “coming of age film” was the perfect mix of “Stand by Me,” “Lassie,” and “My Three Sons” stimulated with the simplicity of the gospel throughout the movie—something those others always lacked. The casting, combined with the artistic sets, the thoughtful music choices, and serene location shots, all helped to carry me back to my own childhood—an innocent age in most towns in America, during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. This movie portrayal was real. It didn’t feel contrived in any way. The producers of TV’s “That 70’s Show” would have been wise to consult the Christiano Film Group before they ever produced a single episode depicting that era for television viewers.

Watching this film surfaced a variety of feelings—which I had long ago forgotten. There were a few painful memories, like neighborhood bullies and the unrequited love of adolescence, but, overall, they were pleasant ones—of a happier time and place in our nation’s history.

This is truly a family film, one that everyone will enjoy. But more importantly, it brings home the message of Jesus in a powerful, yet believable way. The simplicity with which the message of the gospel is delivered in this film is what makes the movie so remarkable. While remaining provocative, it doesn’t have the stereotypical “breakaway” to the church preacher or evangelist to carry the message, as so many films of this type have done over the years.

Yes, the story line has all the predictable scenes and characters that we knew so well in an age gone by. You will cheer for the good guys, and get angry with the “bully” antagonist. You will smile at the innocent foibles of youth, and laugh-out-loud at vignettes you’ve probably lived in your past. But not without shedding a few tears as well. Conventional characters, yes, but they were as real in our childhoods, as they are portrayed in “The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry,” and it doesn’t make us turn away from them at all. It compels us to want more.

You’ll have to see the film to find out what Jonathan’s secrets were, but you won’t be disappointed. It has something to do with “listening” and memorial parks with gravestones. However, by the time you leave the theater, you’ll be thinking of lots of people you know—with whom you have something very important to share. Of this, you can be certain: you are going to love this film.

Violence: None / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—This is a great film! I will encourage everyone I know to go see it. It is encouraging to Christians and is a good reminder what we are to be found doing and it could even help someone who is lost come to realize their need to know Christ. And it could be a great discussion starter for your children to talk with them about Christ and living for Christ everyday and in every way. This is exactly what we have been learning at our church lately so it is also very relevant.

My son is 9, and it kept his interest the whole way through. He even leaned over to me some and tried to anticipate what would happen next or where it was they were going. Kids can really relate to the boys in the movie. Maybe especially, of course, the boys. They carried their Bibles throughout parts of the movie and were not ashamed and faced unbelievers with it without shame. They all shared their faith with others. Very encouraging for young people to see. The lessons taught about having the right attitudes toward others is straight from the Bible. The ending where Dusitn found out a secret Mr. Sperry had was not something I predicted. Go see it for yourself!!!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Mona, age 40 (USA)
Positive—First of all, let me say that I am a huge fan of Indie films today. I’ve enjoyed many of the Christian films today, but this has been the best I have seen yet. Everything is excellent in terms of the film-making, from the acting to the cinematography, plot, production, etc.

I believe this film shows Christians practical ways in which we can follow God’s leading in our lives while sharing our faith with other people in the most powerful, yet unassuming ways. Jonathan’s Sperry’s character is strong and charismatic, yet extremely humble and wise. He approaches the first young boy, Dustin, without forcefulness and takes the time to minister to many of the young boys in practical ways, while using every opportunity to show how difficult it can be to live out your faith in the world (such as when the bully throws his Bible in the mud puddle). Very powerfully, the character tells the young men what it is like to follow Christ… how much courage and endurance it takes.See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Ronda, age 43 (USA)
Positive—A beautiful movie! Heartwarming story that not only witnesses to those who don’t know Jesus, but it also speaks to and challenges Christians as well. The possibilities of a life lived for Jesus, this film is great for the entire family!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4
Angela, age 30 (USA)
Positive—I thought I knew what to expect when I went to see this movie, and I was right. It is mostly predictable and rather slow, and for that reason many movie buffs will probably find it boring. I felt it was similar to “My Girl” as far as era and emotional feel. If you have the patience to wait, there is an unexpected twist at the end. The gospel is strong throughout. Overall it’s a charming film, and one I felt good supporting with my movie theater money.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 3
Christina, age 30 (USA)
Positive—This was the best movie that I have seen in a long time. This movie was a good reflection of how Jesus wants us to love others and to begin to reach out and touch those around us with love and encouragement. Excellent movie for all ages.

Mr. Sperry started out with one and had many come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ because he became a vessel that God used to touch many. He truly loved the boys and the man who had caused the death of his wife. He held no grudges, but loved as Christ loved us.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Debbie, age 52 (USA)
Positive—A wonderful movie about following Jesus. If you have a child, , and he finds the movie hilarious, it’s probably a sign that his friends at school and his media are having a bit more influence on him than you are.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Paul Holmes, age 37 (USA)
Positive—This 1970 period piece is one of the best films I’ve seen in a very long time. It has wonderful messages with regards to forgiveness, praying for your enemies, looking at the heart of people who need Christ, coming to true belief in Jesus, and turning over every part of your life to the Lord.

As with other Christiano films, the theology is very strong and they don’t pussyfoot around the Salvation message, clearly presenting that without Jesus you will not go to Heaven. So many other family films soften this or avoid that rather sensitive issue. In many ways this movie mirrors the Great Commission, and, also, it shows how children can make a difference, as well as adults, in reaching people for the Lord. See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Kathy Pj, age 53 (Canada)
Positive—Great film, and probably the very best acting—and evangelistic opportunity—of Gavin MacLeod’s entire career, and he does superbly as Jonathan Sperry. My only quibble with this film was that it should have been set in 1965 instead of 1970. In upstate New York of 1970, the influence of Woodstock on secular (and some Christian) youth was unmistakable. Remember, the Jesus Movement was in full swing at that point. This film portrays fashions as if bell bottoms, long sideburns (on men), etc. were not the norm at the time, but any contemporary newspaper or local high school yearbook will prove otherwise. Lovely picture! I treasure it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Alec S., age 50 (USA)
Positive—Excellent family movie. Will recommend it to all my children, friends and all young generation teachers in our church. I can watch it over and over and over again.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
S Kariwo, age 51 (Zimbabwe)
Negative—I will first admit that I have yet to see a “Christian movie” that I feel was well done. Each that I have seen start with a great hope that I will finally view a well crafted movie, but my hope quickly fades within the first 15 minutes of watching. I’m sad to say that this same scenario played out with this movie. I had really hoped that this would be a diamond in the rough, but it turned out to be just plain rough.

I recently viewed this movie on DVD with my extended family, which included several kids ranging in age from 6 to 14. All are Christians. My initial impression was positive as the technical quality seemed on par with most mainstream productions, and I really think they captured the feel of 1970 in the opening scenes. However, it was a steep downhill ride from there. It’s never a good sign when the it’s the kids in the room that start laughing hysterically at the awful acting and dialog. The whole movie quickly evolved into an unintentional comedy.See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 1
Bruce, age 46 (USA)