I STILL BELIEVE (2020)
Starring KJ Apa, Britt Robertson, Melissa Roxburgh, Nathan Dean, Gary Sinise, Shania Twain, Abigail Cowen, Nathan Parsons, Reuben Dodd, Cameron Arnett, Tanya Christiansen, Nicolas Bechtel, Gregory Hobson, Sheé Dueitt, Nicholas Sims, Alyssa Gonzalez, Vanessa Padla, Denise Morris, Tera Smith, Hali Everette, Liam Kelly and Jeremy Camp.
Screenplay by Jon Erwin and Jon Gunn.
Directed by Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin.
Distributed by Lionsgate. 115 minutes. Rated PG.
I am not going to lie. Although I am very knowledgeable about music in general, and somewhat knowledgeable about Christian Contemporary music, I just barely know who Jeremy Camp is. I’ve vaguely heard his name, but don’t believe I have ever heard any of his music before this film, which is a dramatization of his early career.
Is his story worth telling? Maybe, I guess. His first marriage did end in tragedy. Of course, the fact that his wife’s death is more interesting than his life is not necessarily a good thing.
Being a Christian Contemporary artist, it is no big surprise that this film plays out like a tragic religious YA novel – a guy falls for a beautiful, smart, giving, devout woman, and as soon as he finds true love she is taken from him. It’s almost as if her disease was a test from God, to make him a better, more pious man.
This is actually a pretty common theme in religious films.
However, usually in these stories, this particular trial by fire is reserved for someone who has fallen, or at least is questioning his faith. Jeremy – as played by Riverdale heartthrob KJ Apa, is obviously a deeply principled man from the very beginning. He loves his handicapped younger brother. He has been instilled with good values by his parents (Gary Sinise and Shania Twain). In fact, his father seems to be a minister himself (although he also seems to own a pizza parlor, the film is a little fuzzy on this point).
You can tell he’s a 90s wannabe CCM singer, because he has at least two DC Talk posters in his bedroom.
Jeremy avoided party schools, ending up in a religious university. We never see him drinking or getting wild with his friends – their idea of a wild party is passing around an acoustic guitar. He wants to write and record music, but he wants it to be a celebration of God, not of Earthly pleasures. In fact, he giggles nervously when asking another more established CC singer if all of his songs are about God, or if he ever wrote about a woman? The mentor acknowledged that he was just then trying to write a song for a woman for the first time.
To paraphrase Victor Lazlo: It is perhaps a strange circumstance that he and Jeremy would fall in love with the same woman.
Melissa (Britt Robertson) is beautiful, smart, sassy, kind, giving, and completely devoted to God. When he serenades her with a snippet of a song, “I love you, I love you, I love you,” she looks confused and asks if that song was for God.
However, Jeremy falls for her, and falls hard. Enough to hide his relatively chaste relationship with her (we never see them doing more than kissing or having him sing to her) from their mutual friend the singer. He tells her that he loves her, not for her mind, or her face, or her body, or her sense of humor, but for her faith.
So, of course, as a way to test both of their faith, she gets cancer.
I truly apologize if that sounds snide. It is based on a true story and the fact that Melissa died is a true and utter tragedy. However, the way it is presented in the film feels a bit manipulative, a little sappy, and needlessly preachy.
In the meantime, Jeremy’s musical career explodes in a completely unbelievable way. He’s filling arenas on the basis of a three-song demo, despite the fact that he has never toured away from his university home. Later he is filling huge festival audiences because of five gold singles that no one other than this extensive crowd and a select audience really knows.
There is a place for good, pious values in filmmaking. In recent years, there have been several that have become hits in their religious community – including God’s Not Dead, Breakthrough, Little Boy, Gimme Shelter and Do You Believe. In fact, the directors here have done several of these religious films, including Mom’s Night Out, I Can Only Imagine and God Provides.
I just wish that these films would put the story before the sermon, leave their characters some room to exist without piety. I Still Believe will probably capture a decent sized religious audience – and maybe a bit of a teen following drawn by Apa (and to a lesser extent Robertson).
There were several women crying around me at the screening of the film, so it will connect with some people. I just wish that its storytelling didn’t feel so cynical, programmed and pre-ordained. I’m willing to bet that Jeremy Camp’s real life is much messier, and much more interesting, than this film portrays it as being.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2020 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 12, 2020.