Christian families looking for wholesome and satisfying entertainment will appreciate “The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry,” the story of young friends whose lives are changed through friendship with a man who does more than encourage them to study the Bible; he sets a standard for them to live up to in the way that he applies Biblical teachings to his own behavior. Its summer vacation of 1970 setting is just right for a “why don’t they make films like they did in the old days” story.
Jansen Panettiere (younger brother of Hayden Panettiere of “Heroes”) plays Dustin, a good kid who lives with his single mother and hangs out with his friends at the local diner. He has a crush on a girl who works there and agonizes about how to ask her out. His other problem is a bully named Nick (Taylor Boggan) who harasses everyone.
Jonathan Sperry (“The Love Boat’s” Gavin McLeod), a kindly neighbor, hires Dustin to mow his lawn. Sperry invites Dustin and his friends over for Bible study and chocolate cake. He has a way of making the lessons very compelling — and for showing the boys with his own behavior and his quiet counsel how meaningful the lessons are. When his open-hearted and considerate generosity makes a difference in Nick’s life, it makes one in theirs, too.
The film’s parochialism in insisting that Christianity is the only way to get to Heaven will keep it in the church group category. But its sincerity and above average script help it live up to the teaching style of its title character as well as the content of his lessons. Its portrayal of patience, kindness, and forgiveness as the most significant and life-changing forces of Christianity — for those who give as well as those who receive — are undeniably touching.