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DVD review: Holiday documentary asks ‘What Would Jesus Buy?’

Dennis King Published: December 2, 2010

“What Would Jesus Buy?” is the kind of documentary that should give you very uncomfortable pause as you’re standing in line to purchase the DVD at the big-box electronics store. A lively showcase for the bombastic Reverend Billy (a.k.a. Bill Talen) and the Church of Stop Shopping, the film depicts a fervor in the motley congregation that makes you wonder if you could ever muster such resolve to avoid the rabid consumerism that defines the American Christmas.

As the reverend and the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir cross America confronting materialism at big-box stores and shopping centers all along the way, you might laugh at the antics, but you can’t avoid a queasy feeling of being part of the problem.

Reverend Billy, resplendent in white suit and blond pompadour, doesn’t shop – much. He and his band are in the business of trying to turn the nation away from its headlong consumer tumble into the holiday season, when Americans traditionally give family and friends a lot of stuff and max out their credit cards in the process.

Imagine thinking you might be able to change our nation’s shopping habits! It’s an impossible quest. Even Billy’s wife says at one point that she longs to see some tangible results for their efforts. She can’t go on faith much longer. But maybe this wildly satirical movie is the result she was longing for.

The film does digress from Billy’s evangelical roadshow from time to time, including a very sobering section on how our lovely gifts are produced in grim, third-world sweatshops. Three American teenagers seem actually to get the message as they try to discover where their favorite fashions are made – and how. They give the impression of never having thought that the glitter of the shopping mall might just have a dark side. Their amazement at the idea that other human beings might be exploited for profit is somehow both sweet in its innocence and tragic in its cluelessness.

“What Would Jesus Buy?” runs 90 minutes and is rated PG (thematic material, mild brief language).

- Dennis King