There's not much original, but there's something lovely about "Pastor Brown" (8 tonight, Lifetime), a film about a prodigal daughter challenged to find her way home.
When we first meet Jesse (Salli Richardson-Whitfield), she's pole dancing at a club in New York. Meanwhile, in her hometown of Atlanta, her pastor father (Keith David) collapses in the pulpit; soon Jesse's sister (Nicole Ari Parker) is calling for her to come home to be by daddy's bedside.
It's not a pleasant homecoming. Everyone knows Jesse isn't the Broadway dancer she claims to be. Her sister is resentful that she's been left at home to be dutiful and that, despite being dutiful, dad seems to like Jesse better. Plus she's been left to raise Jesse's son (Michael B. Jordan), who also has a chip on his shoulder just for Jesse for abandoning him.
Dad calls a bedside meeting, unexpectedly (and inexplicably) says he wants Jesse to take over for him as head of his church, and promptly dies. Almost no one is happy about this decision, but especially Rev. Callaghan (Michael Beach), an assistant pastor who has been waiting to take the main job, and his cousin Angelique (Tasha Smith), who has some unexplained ancient resentment toward Jesse. Even Jesse is skeptical, but after some thought, she decides to go for the job.
This, of course, is a story of redemption, and one of forgiveness, and it isn't just Jesse who needs forgiveness or redemption. For a bunch of church-goers, there's lots of bad behavior on display here.
But it works because the cast is strong. Richardson-Whitfield is just a wonderful actress; her Jesse is strong and vulnerable. She knows she's made bad decisions but she always owns them and Richardson-Whitfield imbues her with a quiet confidence and grace that makes her transition from troubled girl to enlightened woman seem plausible. Beach manages to bring layers to his unlikeable character that aren't necessarily in the script.
And the script does have lapses. Jesse and her son's relationship shifts course abruptly, a character played by first-time director/actor Rockmond Dunbar doesn't really have a place, but I'll give points for not going with the obvious ending.
Unlike other films that center in the church, this film isn't particularly preachy, although at least one message is clear: Father/heavenly Father knows best.