I Still Believe (2020) Mar 14, 2020 17:30:14 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Mar 14, 2020 17:30:14 GMT -5
I Still Believe (2020)
Directed by: The Erwin Brothers
Directed by: The Erwin Brothers
Britt Robertson and KJ Apa do an awful lot of canoodling in I Still Believe.
Two years ago, the Erwin brothers, Andrew and Jon, were at the helm for I Can Only Imagine, one of the best faith-based dramas of the last decade. It told the story of the Christian band MercyMe's frontman Bart Millard and his tumultuous relationship with his father alongside the rise of his music career. It was an earnest film; maybe one of the genre's best.
But alas, the Erwin brothers have their back-to-Earth moment with I Still Believe, one of the worst faith-based flicks in recent memory and a rotten way for the genre to kick off a new decade. Here's a miserably saccharine effort that makes dying of ovarian cancer look like a stroll down a romantic riverwalk, with only the faintest glimmers of progressive questions posed before it's onto the next maudlin sequence. Where I Can Only Imagine kept its proselyting and holy-rolling to a minimum, I Still Believe references God and his alleged miracles so frequently it's a wonder if he'll be receiving royalty checks down the road.
The film tells the true story of Christian musician Jeremy Camp's relationship with Melissa Lynn Henning. The first picture released under the Kingdom Story Company umbrella (which is also set to release a biopic on NFL legend Kurt Warner later this year), the film taps two stars not recognizable for the genre's target audience: KJ Apa, of Riverdale fame, and Britt Robertson, probably most recognizable from Tomorrowland. Apa plays Jeremy, a handsome, wholesome soul who, in 1999, leaves home for college. Harboring a real gift for music, he links up with fellow singer-songwriter Jean-Luc (Nathan Parsons, Roswell, New Mexico) and Melissa (Robertson), whom he falls for instantly. Despite initially appreciating being thought of as Jeremy's girlfriend, Melissa's wishy-washy attitude towards a relationship frustrates Jeremy. She's in an awkward place in life, committing her collegiate journey to God while also buddying up to Jean-Luc as if she's afraid to hurt his own budding romantic feelings as well. The way the whole triangle is presented is just strange.
Jeremy and Melissa do indeed wind up getting together just as Jeremy's music career begins to show signs of promise, notably after his demo sees some success. Not even Melissa's cancer diagnosis deters the strong feelings they have for one another, but in fact, motivates Jeremy to be by her side and even propose to her while she lies on a hospital bed. Both come from religious backgrounds that guide them through trying times, even as Melissa's sickness thrusts her into debilitating chemotherapy and leads Jeremy's parents (Gary Sinise, Shania Twain, who so desperately needs a better agent when it comes to choosing film roles) to question his decision-making.
While I appreciate the Erwin brothers' resistance to condense Jeremy Camp's life story into the confines of a two-hour film, seeing him go from nobody to somebody over the course of a couple sequences is nothing short of jarring. The film is hyper-focused on the passionate romance between him and Melissa, which is all well and good, but seeing Jeremy rise without any inkling of how he is able to headline packed auditoriums at only 20-years-old is mystifying. The other crime is how indistinguishable and bland Jeremy's songs are. You could sense a fiery, personal passion behind Bart Millard's music in I Can Only Imagine, but I struggle to recall one line from one of Jeremy's low-key ballads despite them attempting to serve as resounding moments during Melissa's struggles.
The biggest issue at hand is the beautifying of everything, from the post-card cinematography to the circumstances themselves. Every year it seems, around the springtime, we are treated to a film that makes crippling diseases and rare illnesses out to be vehicles for schmaltzy romantic fluff that undermine the plight of the sick. Whether it's The Fault in Our Stars, last year's Five Feet Apart, or here in I Still Believe, we get the impression that Melissa's ovarian cancer is nothing a little canoodling can't fix. Even when she arrives home after hearing the devastating news she'll never be able to have children, her meltdown is so attractive in its theatricality that it's impossible to believe. Heaven forbid these Christian dramas show the dark times for what they really are. They're nothing that a little snuggling and praying can't make go away.
Even when the Erwin brothers dare explore more progressive ideas, they can't help but fall back into the typical trappings of formula. Ideally, after the inevitable happens, the third act would be used to explore Jeremy's tested faith. After all, the praying on behalf of Melissa's well-being him, his wife, and hundreds of concertgoers did simply failed. Despite all the faith in the world, Jeremy's younger sibling was still born mentally disabled, a point that's brought up late. Every cry for a miracle or a lapse in cancer was ultimately futile, something that would certainly test anyone's belief in a higher power. Like an episode of Full House, however, a two-minute long heart-to-heart between Jeremy and his father laced with emotional platitudes and "you did the right thing, sport" sentiments apparently makes it all okay to continue operating. I'm sure Jeremy Camp had gloomy nights and long conversations with pastors and clergymen after the fact. None are shown. Chin up, kid.
I Still Believe represents some of the worst conventions in Christian cinema, and it'll take a minor miracle for this genre to get back to what made I Can Only Imagine and the Kendrick brothers' Overcomer so broadly appealing amidst a wasteland of hollow storytelling.
Starring: KJ Apa, Britt Robertson, Nathan Parsons, Gary Sinise, Shania Twain, Melissa Roxburgh, Nathan Dean, and Abigail Cowen. Directed by: The Erwin Brothers.