"Ragamuffin" tells the life story of Rich Mullins, a legendary figure in popular Christian music. Mullins was an unlikely candidate for stardom. He avoided the spotlight, he had some unconventional ways, and he had a number of personal problems. This movie spends a little too much time dwelling on these problems and unconventional ways, though, in my opinion. This movie is a must see if you already know and love Mullins' music, but I doubt if it wins him any new fans.
The movie starts with his life on a farm in Indiana. Mullins had a strained relationship with his father as a young boy. He would rather play the piano or sit in his room and write about his feelings while his father wanted him to carry forward the family farm. The scenes between a young Mullins and his father are the most important scenes in the movie and are referred to over and over throughout the rest of the movie.
As Mullins grows up, he enrolls in a Christian college. His roommate and his family adopts Rich and Mullins views his roommate's father as the father he never had. We in the audience follow Rich as he makes his way through college, scraping by as a musician. He struggles not so much in the attempt to get noticed as in his motivations for performing. Everyone notices his immense talent, but Mullins feels more comfortable ministering to small groups and private individuals than he does with singing to large audiences.
Despite his misgivings, he eventually does make it in the world of Christian music. His first hit was the writing and music credit for "Sing your Praise to the Lord," a big hit for Amy Grant in the early 80s. Soon he finds himself on tour with Grant. The record company executives are trying to groom him for stardom, but he is just as likely to spend the weekend at a youth camp on a Navajo reservation in Arizona as he is to show up for Amy Grant's next big concert.
Even after "Awesome God" makes him a headline act on his own, he still has problems living the life of a Christian pop star. He obsesses over a girl who has moved beyond him, he rubs churches and people in the music business the wrong way and struggles at times with alcohol. In the low point of the movie, after watching his best friend's dad die of a heart attack he shows up drunk to the funeral.
At this point in his life he meets Brennan Manning, author of the moderately successful book "The Ragamuffin Gospel" (with Mullins' endorsement it went on to be a Christian bestseller in the mid-90s). While not excusing his sins, Manning works one-on-one with Mullins, helping him work through his issues with his past and his family, who he hasn't seen for years. One particularly engaging scene is when Manning advises Mullins to write the letter he wish he had received from his father. who by that point had passed away. The movie ends with a portrayal of the fateful car crash which ended his life in 1997.
Before the end credits roll, the movie informs us that Mullins determined to live his life as simply as possible. He instructed his accountant to only pay him the average income of a typical family. The rest was given to various charities, churches and foundations. This would have been an interesting plot point to make Mullins' portrayal more sympathetic. The story tends to wallow too much in the dark periods of his life. The movie was made with the cooperation of Mullins' surviving family, so we have to believe this was the movie they wanted. In fact Mullins' brother is featured in a short interview in the special features and appears in the audio commentary, something I am looking forward to hearing. (Yes, I'm the geek who listens to DVD commentaries.) The story hints at controversy he aroused some churches he ministered in, but it does not dwell on that, and I think that is a positive choice.
The actor who portrays Mullins, Michael Koch, actually sings the songs on the soundtrack, as opposed to recordings of Mullins. Koch does a very good job with the music, and is acceptable in the speaking role. The acting in general is above normal for a low-budget, Christian movie. The performances are just as good or better than in the Kendrick brothers' (Facing the Giants, Fireproof) films. The performances are good, the music is very good, but in the end it doesn't feel very inspiring or uplifting. Not that it has to, I don't guess, but it's definitely not your typical Christian movie in that regard. I enjoyed it because of the music, but if you're not familiar with his music you might not get much positive out of it.