In spite of being a devout atheist (an oxymoron I imagine), I’ve always found the people involved with any religion to be fascinating. Director Rossi wants us to learn about the person known as Aimee Semple McPherson, but he doesn’t want us to know the woman. He only wants us to know the evangelist. The film is based on the true life Christian evangelist who became a religious sensation touring around the world and preaching her Christian beliefs. Reading on the actual McPherson, I knew that in the right hands this could have been one really good biographical account of this individual, but Rossi really doesn’t live up to the potential he lays out on the table.
McPherson was indeed devoted, but quite possibly—and most assuredly–ingenuous in many respects of her beliefs, but Rossi only slightly touches upon that and never examines it too closely, which is a misstep in itself because not touching upon her flaws make her less three-dimensional. But the aspects that take this and bring it down are the production qualities which often made this much too disorienting to engage in. Mainly, Rossi’s direction is what makes this grueling to sit through. His camera work is skittish and many times dizzying to watch, while the choppy editing shows no sign of coherent narrative. Rossi can never seem to keep track of the actor’s dialogue and shifts back and forth panning shakily and then focuses on them. It’s distracting. Obviously he’s never heard of a wide shot before. There are scenes where the actor’s heads are partly cut off, his close-ups are slow and jittery, and I immediately lost patience. But often times “McPherson” is brutally melodramatic with saccharine routine characterization, and manipulative plot twists that never tugged at any of my emotions.
Mimi Michaels forces passion and conviction through the stilted and hokey dialogue, but never really becomes believable as McPherson. “McPherson” starts off with an interesting storyline but invariably becomes a surefire task to sit through meandering, wading through dull dialogue, and vapid romance sub-plots. Rossi never touches on Aimee’s life and her career; yet he mostly just takes that material and uses it as a basis for some less than gripping drama between Aimee and her battle with people attempting to disprove her faith. Rossi though, attempts to paint McPherson as a deity, but she comes off more as a manipulative fanatic at times making people do what she wants them to with her sermons, and her transformation in to a conflicted human by the climax is much too forced to be believed.
Her transformation from atheist to Christian is much too sudden to buy, and Rossi never gives us enough of her as an atheist to which she was said to be passionate about, as well. Surprisingly, though, Rossi doesn’t gloss over her indiscretions involved with her alleged kidnapping which has been disproved, but he instead paints the incident as a lovelorn woman who took a chance to be with someone, and not as a deified woman who lied and proved she wasn’t as holy as she’d made people believe her to be, which makes her much more of a dislikable character. He never shows that they found that she wasn’t kidnapped, didn’t walk through the desert for thirteen days as she’d claimed, and in fact was spotted around many shady hotels. In spite of that oddly glaring oversight, Rossi never lives up to the potential he presents to the audience, and “McPherson” is a dreadful self-defeating melodrama.