"I STILL BEVIEVE": NO SLEEVE, NO SHIRT, NO NUANCE
* * (out of four)
In my 40-plus years of reviewing, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film so totally devoid of subtlety and nuance.
“I Still Believe” doesn’t merely wear its heart on its sleeve; I’m not sure it even has a sleeve. Or a shirt.
The faith-based film will satisfy most of its intended target audience -- as indicated by a 99% popular rating at Rotten Tomatoes. And its message about facing death may prove helpful for many in the midst of a national health crisis.
But I found the movie painfully thin and awkward. After less than half an hour -- with 85 long minutes to go -- I was already weary of having emotional syrup and hot-sauce poured down my throat, without much to chew on.
The film tells the true story of Christian music artist Jeremy Camp and Melissa Henning, with whom the singer fell in love at college. Act One rides mostly on the conflict of Melissa’s long-standing relationship with another performer, to whom she feels loyal -- even though she doesn’t share his romantic inclinations.
While that older guy’s wisdom and selflessness were what I liked best, neither his character nor his friendship with Melissa are fleshed out enough; ultimately, he’s something of a cypher, feeling a bit too good to be true.
The rest of the film details Jeremy and Melissa’s struggle after she was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer. They went on to marry in spite of the young lady’s grim prognosis; but I will not say more about that, for the sake of folks who don’t know the story.
Camp, now 42 -- with a massive string of top-selling records to his credit -- is played by KJ Apa, star of TV’s “Riverdale,” along with such recent movies as “A Dog’s Purpose” and “The Hate U Give.” Apa very solidly does his own singing and playing, though I personally found the compositions insipid; but then, I generally don’t care for contemporary Christian music anyway.
Apa is joined by Britt Robertson playing Melissa. Country singer Shania Twain co-stars as Jeremy’s mother, while Gary Sinise shines in his all-too-brief role as Mr. Camp. This quartet -- together with a terrific Nathan Parsons as Melissa’s earlier beau -- gives the film some cohesion, with Robertson especially fine in her later scenes.
The problem is that the script and the direction refuse to leave anything to the imagination. The similar faith-based film “I Can Only Imagine” -- which is ironically from the same writer-director team as this one -- provided us space to dig beneath the trauma, along with unanswered questions to take home. “Believe,” by contrast, consistently tells us exactly how we’re supposed to feel and think; I literally turned my head away in a couple scenes so I could get some room to breathe.
Faith-based film fans: Feel free to practice social-distancing with this film; stay home instead with “Moms’ Night Out,” “Overcomer” or “Paul, Apostle of Christ.”
“I Still Believe,”
directed by Andrew & Jon Erwin
* * (out of four)
Run time: 115 min.
Rated PG for brief blood