Joy Hunter has just graduated high school and has been accepted to a college with her two best friends. Joy is a Christian and has had her share of trials in life. Namely, a disease that should have ended her life by age 15 is now in remission. Joy signs up for an Ancient History class taught by professor Jim Byrnes. He is a sworn atheist, once a believer and does everything in his power to make students of faith—any faith—very uncomfortable. Also joining the class is Paul Agard (mid-30s). Paul is back to school after many years to get his teaching degree. Paul finds out quickly that Professor Byrnes is not playing by the rules and doesn’t hesitate to go head to head with him in front of the whole class. Joy begins to buy into the new teachings and ideas that Byrnes delivers and soon become a close follower. But Joy’s home life begins to suffer as she and her parents begin to argue constantly about the college and her professor. Joy’s health begins to fail. Her pastor and doctor are very concerned. While talking with Byrnes on the college lawn, Joy passes out and is rushed to the hospital. She refuses to see her parents but wants to see Jim Byrnes. These two unlikely friends will soon see God in a way they had never expected. The Mis-Education of Joy is a story based on true events seen and experienced through the eyes of Paul C. Agard of Queens New York.
This film could easily be written off as just another “Christian kid goes to college and has their faith challenged” movie…but it shouldn’t. What The Mis-Education of Joy offers is an interesting and unique take on a common theme in faith-based films. The film is told through the lens of the writer, author Paul C. Agard (Michael Higgenbottom), and the story that we experience is a composite of the many heartbreaking tales of young people who have lost their faith during the pursuit of education and answers to life’s questions.We meet a boisterously irreligious, stereotypical atheist college professor, scarred by his own past, who seems determined to break the spirits of any believer he comes in contact with. We fall in love with Joy (Jessica Reed), the heroine: a beautiful, bold Christian teen filled with hope and faith. Off to college on the heels of two years in remission from a life-threatening illness, Joy is bright-eyed and eager to learn; eager to share her faith and inspire others to love God just as much as she does. To Joy’s discomfort and shock, her introductory history class becomes a full-fledged debate as to the authenticity of her faith. Week after week, we see Joy’s hope slowly turned into doubt as she absorbs the arguments between zealous Christian classmate Paul, and seemingly wise Professor Byrnes (Tom Pantera). I’d be lying if I said some portions of the film aren’t cliché or frustrating. We are given a villainized atheist antagonist and an innocent, naïve protagonist. We are presented with lengthy arguments, apologetics, facts and figures. But beyond the expected, this film offers a new dimension in apologetics filmmaking. The composite Joy represents many young people of faith living in a secular-based education system. One cannot help but feel deeply for her and identify with her search for answers. This film breaks the fourth wall in Christian filmmaking by giving a real face to the issue. It accurately and woefully portrays how unprepared most young believers are to face the “real world.” It doesn’t fully wrap up in a neat little bow; there are unanswered questions, absentee spiritual leaders, unrealistic situations—and the rawness of that is refreshing. The way the story plays out is both jarring and thought-provoking, and what the viewer is left with is a shocking chance for self-reflection. There are also incredibly touching moments, a beautifully diverse cast, and sound apologetics. Because the film contains a lot of complicated subjects and content that may be difficult for younger viewers, we award The Mis-Education of Joy the Dove Seal of Approval for Ages 12+. The discussion opportunities with this film are endless! I strongly recommend watching with the youth in your life and allowing The Mis-Education of Joy to serve as a springboard for many vital conversations to come.