'Ragamuffin' is based on the life of Rich Mullins, a musical prodigy who rose to Christian music fame and fortune only to walk away and live on a Navajo reservation. An artistic genius, raised on a tree farm in Indiana by a callous father, Rich wrestled all of his life with the brokenness and crippling insecurity born of his childhood. A lover of Jesus and a rebel in the church, Rich refused to let his struggles with his own darkness tear him away from a God he was determined to love. As he struggled with success in Nashville and depression in Wichita, Rich desired most of all to live a life of honest and reckless faith amidst a culture of religion and conformity.
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That said, I think if you are interested in a review of a bio pic, you just might be interested in the opinion of someone who actually knew the man.
Rich Mullins was a successful Contemporary Christian musician, probably best remembered as the writer/singer of the worship anthem “Awesome God”. He was known as the quirky, beloved poet of his industry, coming to concerts barefoot and giving away much of his considerable wealth to the poor. David Leo Schultz and his crew from Color Green Films could have made an endearing little movie where all is well and the hero is shiny and perfect in the current fashion of the genre of faith based films.
But Rich wasn’t perfect and it was his imperfection that drew Schultz to produce an authentic movie about a broken man who authentically loved God.
Ragamuffin portrays the story of Rich from his young life on a farm in rural Indiana to his death in a car accident in September of 1997. While music and the struggles of fame are major ingredients in the story, the universal storyline for me is the unresolved relationship between Rich and his father, John. (Truly, can you name 10 people in your life who do not have strained relationships with their fathers, either deceased or alive? Maybe 5?) This is the heart of the story-what people do when they believe in their hearts that they are “not enough”.
Enter the true hero of the story, author and speaker, Brennan Manning. Brennan, an ex-priest, divorced alcoholic in recovery (sometimes) is able to model for Rich the truth of being a ragamuffin, people who know that they are wounded, broken, and messy, yet know that God loves them, “just as you are and not as you should be, for none of us are as we should be.”
This is a movie about pain, brokenness and redemption. It is not preachy or religious in the overly pious sense of the word. It is certainly not your mama’s “Christian movie”, but it is powerfully done, providing authentic hope for us ragamuffins of the world.
I was getting ready for church Sunday morning, September 20, 1997, when my sister burst into my room and yelled, "Rich Mullins was killed in a car crash!" I stared at her. "That's not funny," I said flatly. "No, really, it's on the radio!" And then she saw my face and realized that might not have been the best way to break the news to me, considering what a fan I was. So she left my room.
Getting through church that morning was hard, because I wanted to grieve, but I also had a lot of guilt. I'm at church to focus on God, not cry over some singer that I didn't even know that died. I'd been taught/told that the interests I had (movies, music, etc) were silly, trivial, dumb, what have you, and it would be wrong to cry over him. But I wanted to, because he was more than "some singer" to me. When the congregation recited The Apostle's Creed, I could only say it in my head, not out loud, because all I could hear was Rich singing, "I believe what I believe/Is what makes me what I am". And I thought, "Are you singing your song with the angels today, Rich?"
Finally service let out, I got in the car with my sister, and I sobbed and sobbed. I finally calmed down enough to start the car, and of course the Christian radio station was playing Rich's music. The song, "All the Way My Savior Leads Me" (words not by him, but his arrangement and recording) just finished, and the DJ said, "If some of you are having a hard time dealing with this tragedy, there's a book you can read called 'Why Bad Things Happen To Good People'."
I shut off the radio and started swearing and yelling at it. There's a line in the movie "Galaxy Quest", you'd have to see it to understand, but one of the characters says, "Did any of you ever WATCH the show???" And that's what I was yelling at the radio. Did you ever LISTEN to his songs?? Did you ever pay attention to what he SAID??? Bad thing? He went out like Elijah! He went Home. He's not Waiting anymore (those are all titles of songs he sang). He sang, "I'll call you my country/But I'll be lonely for my home." He said, "Someday I'll be like those stained glass windows", like the saints they represented. If you actually loved him and his music you would of course be hurting to lose him, but a bad thing for HIM??? No way, he's the lucky one. We're the poor saps that still haven't seen glory yet.
That's my thought when I read people's comments about this movie, saying they're disappointed in how it shows Rich. I don't think they were paying attention. Although, it does help to realize that this is not a straight biopic of him. This is not meant to be a straight, "So here's Rich Mullins and here's what he was like". Of course, again, if you were paying attention, you'd realize what an impossible feat that would be! Not to mention, you have to have an understanding of movie writing and movie making. Scriptwriters have to pick a story to tell. And my feeling is, the makers of this film picked the right story. I also would suggest to anyone who hasn't seen it, read reviews, both good and bad, and watch the documentary made of the film (available at [...]). This will help prepare you for what you will see. If you want to learn about all the sides of Rich, google him on YouTube and watch "Homeless Man", the first documentary done about him many years ago, and then watch as many concerts and clips as you can. You'll see all his goofiness and seriousness and profoundness and talent. Then watch this movie.
The movie decided choose a story that seemed to drive a lot of Rich's struggles through his life: his relationship with his father. By his own admission (again, if you listened) it was rocky. He wasn't into sports and was not mechanically minded, and his dad was all GUY and a farmer to boot, so he always struggled to believe that his dad really loved him. This created a dichotomy in his personality--the desire to be accepted and loved, and the desire to act in ways that really put that to the test. This is a story that so many can relate to. The film shows how this affected his music, his love life (Rich said he was engaged/with a woman for 10 years and it ended with her marrying someone else), his friendships, and his behaviors. He struggled with addictions and codependency, and the film shows that. But it shows also that, even in the midst of his sins and problems, he cried out to God, mostly through his music. As one of his bandmates once said of him, "His appetite for sin was greater than mine", but then so was his appetite for God. His producer, Reed Arvin (who is not depicted in the film), once said that he felt like Rich was boxing with God in his lyrics, and he felt like he shouldn't be in the studio when Rich was recording, because it was a private conversation. In showing all this, the film easily could have accidentally crossed a line and shown too much to make Rich out to be a hypocrite. But it pulls back just in time to show exactly what I said--Rich didn't preach at people or condemn people for the things they did, because he did them himself. Instead he shared how imperfect he was, and yet still wrote and sang about God, not for other people, but for himself (there's even a concert scene in the movie in which he says, before singing, "This is more for me than for you", talking to his audience).
On the one hand the scriptwriter had a heck of a time trying to tell this story, and I think it was a job well done. On the other hand there wasn't a ton of writing to do since a lot of Rich's narration in the film are straight quotes from him. :D (I'm not putting her down, really, I'm being tongue in cheek here) But seriously, in the movie, almost everything Rich says in his concerts and in his interview (the story is told through a radio interview he's doing, and the interviewer is played by Rich's real life brother, David Mullins) in the film are straight quotes from his concerts and writings. I know that because I'm a geeky enough fan to have read and listened to everything there is out there. :P While the timeline of events and songs and quotes are not "historically" accurate, that hardly matters in the telling of the story, at least I don't think so. And once again, I'm just geeky enough to KNOW it's not historically accurate. If you're not like me, you won't know the difference (which is why I don't think it matters). The only thing that bothered me in that regard was the song Rich is shown to be recording shortly before he died (it's from his first album, it was not what he was working on before his death). Still, I think it was chosen for storytelling reasons, so I can let that go.
Now, why isn't it 5 stars? Simply technical things, if we may detach emotionally from this for a second. There should have been more of an effort to show Rich aging. The actor, Michael Koch, did an amazing job portraying Rich as he's written in the script. However, he looks exactly the same in the film in 1975 as he does in 1997, just before he's killed. That is perhaps a budget issue (I don't think it's a talent issue), but it's still something you just have to sort of "buy" when you watch it. There's also his hair--it seems to change length and appearance from scene to scene sometimes, and there's not always a time gap. I do think there were some short sequences that could have been cut out, not for content but for time--it's been commented that the film feels flabby in places, too much padding. I agree (my husband does not, he thinks it makes it awkward and that it needed to be awkward to emphasize Rich's story). I also think that maybe his codependency was a little overplayed. Only because I know (well, as a fan, I THINK I know) that certain relationships were not severed as a result, particularly with "Justin" (his name in the film, though fans know it's representing Beaker). Rich even later wrote a song for Beaker's son so we know they stayed friends. But the film shows it as a bridge was sadly burned. So, the only thing holding me back from 5 stars is the technical aspect, and some minor personal issues.
I will say though, that as someone who DOES NOT LIKE Christian films, mostly for the cheesy 2 dimensional acting/characterization that is the norm, that this movie is great. The acting is not 2D. There are places where I felt like it was so natural, that I was watching real people have a real conversation. Some people might think that looks like bad acting, but I thought the opposite. I especially loved the interactions with Morris, his roommate's dad (played by the real life roommate himself, which was impactful for me). He's not a professional actor, I don't think, and so he was very real. The only actors I'd have a problem with were minor, people like the fundamentalist pastor, or the president of the college Rich goes to. Everyone else was very real and relaxed and believable.
If you DO like Christian films, though, be warned you may not like this because of how real it is. Christian films pretend to deal in real, but they end up staying on the surface. As David Mullins says in a brief interview on the DVD of this movie, we even try to whitewash stories in the Bible, even when it's not a children's Sunday school class. The heroes in the Bible "made mistakes" but didn't sin, the way we tell it. That's just not true though. David sinned huge, Moses sinned and lost the promised land, Abraham lied and was a bad dad, Gideon set up idols after he won the battle against the Midianites. This movie doesn't stay on the surface. So if you're easily offended by the sins of others, don't watch it. And in all seriousness, do not show this to your young children unless you have a talk with them first--there is drinking, smoking, and mild curse words.
But that's who Rich was. And if you were paying attention, if you really listened to him, you'd know that if his story was told at all, this is how it should be told. Because in the end, the movie is all about Christ and HIS perfection. Because He's the only Hero anyone of us should look to. The rest of us are Ragamuffins.