A crisis of faith is never an easy thing to show onscreen; what could be more internal than the struggle to understand one’s relationship with God?
Come Sunday is based on the true story of Carlton Pearson, a beloved Oklahoma bishop — and favored protégé of evangelist kingmaker Oral Roberts — whose cleaving from Pentacostal gospel caused a deep schism not only inside his own soul, but in his marriage and large Tulsa congregation as well. And director Joshua Marston (Maria Full of Grace) has found a compelling Pearson in British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, who disappears almost entirely inside the preacher’s booming cadences and Cosby sweaters. (The movie’s narrative, based on a three-part This American Life series from 2005, begins in 1998).
Marston hardly stints on supporting costars, either; a white-haired Martin Sheen takes on the fatherly but steely-spined Roberts; Danny Glover appears briefly as Carlton’s elderly uncle, serving out a long prison sentence; Condola Rashad is his fiercely protective wife; and Jason Segel, incongruously, turns up as a sort of earnest, rule-bound church consigliere.
But while Pearson’s abrupt conversion — profoundly moved by footage of genocide victims in Africa, he decides that an Almighty who damns all non-believers to hell is too cruel to be countenanced — may be intensely dramatic to the people in his world, it doesn’t always make for compelling storytelling. In place of complex spiritual and ethical debates, the divide mostly seems to consist of gut feeling on one side and righteous scripture on the other. And Ejiofor’s nuanced interpretation of a flawed but deeply committed man of God is only occasionally matched by Marcus Hinchey’s skimming, episodic script.
The most resonant subplot turns out to be the one between Pearson and Reggie (Get Out’s Lakeith Stanfield), a devoted church organist struggling to reconcile his homosexuality with the Bible’s teachings in an era when AIDS was still a certain death sentence. His experience, even only briefly explored, has a rawness and real-world specificity too many of Come‘s Sunday-sermon moments lack. That and Ejiofor’s performance make the movie; the rest, you may just have to take on faith. B