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Review: Reagan-era coming-of-age tale ‘Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk’ awkwardly caught between drama and comedy

Sasha Feldman in the movie "Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk."
(Indie Rights)

Eric Stoltz makes a confident if tonally wavering feature directorial debut with “Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk,” a candid coming-of-age satire about a Northern California teenager’s struggles with the constraints of his Jehovah’s Witness upbringing.

Adapted by music journalist Tony DuShane from his loosely autobiographical novel of the same name, the film centers around Gabe (an impressively rooted Sasha Feldman), an average Reagan-era high school student whose testosterone-informed impulses constantly put him at odds with his religion’s disapproving elders, especially his stern father (Paul Adelstein).

Surrounded by temptation at every turn, courtesy of the highly corruptible presence of his worldly cousin by marriage, Karen (playfully played by Lauren Lakis), and his rocker Uncle Jeff (Rob Giles), Gabe unsurprisingly suffers a crisis of conscience, supplementing his Bible readings with the writings of Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski.

Stoltz effectively captures the ’80s milieu and has as engaging cast at his disposal, with lead Feldman, who had a recurring role on the “Get Shorty” TV series, possessing the sort of goofy affability that could easily help him pass for a Franco brother.

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But as the storyline progresses, the inevitable truths and hypocrisies that Gabe encounters along the way unfortunately serve to throw that sharply attuned comedic-dramatic touch out of balance, resulting in an unsatisfying, uneven third act that bears the brunt of a notably heavier hand.

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‘Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

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Playing: Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood

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