Film Review: ‘I Still Believe’: Faith-Based Healing Wholesomeness

March 18, 2020 Updated: March 22, 2020

PG | | Drama, Music, Romance | 13 March 2020 (USA)

One look at the title, “I Still Believe,” and you know this story about a musician and his devotion to healing his young wife is a faith-based (and in America that means Christian) movie.

I used to despise these things. There’s currently a ridiculously lopsided skew of Rotten Tomatoes critics against this movie, versus the general public who are overwhelmingly for it. I’ve changed my mind about faith-based movies. Wanna hear why? I’ll talk about why later.

This is the true story of the early years of tremendously successful Christian singer Jeremy Camp, who’s sold millions. Have you heard of him? I hadn’t. Doesn’t matter.

man in plaid shirt with red guitar
K.J. Apa plays Jeremy Camp in “I Still Believe.” (Lionsgate)

It’s 1999. Young Mr. Camp (played by K.J. Apa of “Riverdale”) is an aspiring singer-songwriter-guitarist from Lafayette, Indiana, starting Bible college in California.

Jeremy is there to seek out (and maybe get mentoring from) his idol, Jean-Luc (Nathan Parsons), a successful alum. In this collegiate Bible bastion, the students love them some Christian rock concerts, like, constantly, it would appear.

man singing at microphone with guitar
K.J. Apa plays Jeremy Camp in “I Still Believe.” (Lionsgate)

Very soon, Jeremy’s up on stage, strumming and crooning for Jesus, where he beholds a young blond beauty raising her palm heavenward, and it’s instantaneous smitten-ness for both of them. This would be Melissa (Britt Robertson). And you know, forthwith, that their twitterpated-ness shall be epic. Why? Because these are two extremely good-looking people.

young man and woman talking
K.J. Apa and Britt Robertson in “I Still Believe.” (Lionsgate)

Problem is, mentor Jean-Luc’s got a thang for sweet Melissa too. Can you say love triangle? Will it cause uncomfortable situations? Eh, not really, because Jeremy has dark-browed, lantern-jawed, young Superman-ness about him, Melissa has blond Supergirl-ness, and Jean-Luc doesn’t have any of these things.

What’s slightly weird is that Jean-Luc, who’s already got a recording contract, is still hanging around campus like Matthew McConaughey’s Wooderson in “Dazed & Confused” hanging around his old high school. You almost expect Jean-Luc to deliver a French-accented version of Wooderson’s monologue: “That’s what I like about these high school girls, man. I get older; they stay the same age. Yes they do.”

Except, while that’s some community-college-attending-townie-who-hits-on-high-schoolers amusing filthiness, Jean-Luc is deeply Christian. And you know what? It’s kind of a relief that he’s not the French Wooderson. It’s a relief that he’s a righteous dude, trying to do good with his music. Like I said, more on this later.

We never learn what the two lovebirds are studying, or much about them. We do realize that K.J. Apa’s not yet a skilled enough actor to pull off being that handsome and playing someone so isolated, corn-fed, and inexperienced with girls that he’d be that awkward.

man with red guitar talking to girl with diary
K.J. Apa and Britt Robertson in “I Still Believe.” (Lionsgate)

And all we learn about Melissa is that she knows a lot about astronomy, galaxies, nebulae, and waxes Hallmark poetic about these being the paintbrushes of the Creator. Man, that’s some corny corn pone right there. But you know what? It’s also… just… not.

Dying Girl Movie

That’s what almost all young romance movies are nowadays: dying girl movies. The girl’s gotta die. Or the boy. But mostly the girl. This one checks that box with vehemence. If you like this kind of thing, you’ll shed many a tear.

man and woman on beach blanket
K.J. Apa and Britt Robertson in “I Still Believe.” (Lionsgate)

And I’ll now run my usual litany about how it’s been hip for quite some time in America to call such a thing a tear-jerker. I don’t agree that all sad stories are manipulative. Americans love to find this all very distasteful and be outraged that sad movies make us cry. “OMG, it jerked my tears.” The emotion of sadness is what the sad mask with the downturned sadness mouth, of the dual theatrical masks, signifies. Sadness, people! Go cry! It’s good for you. Cathartic, they call it. But Americans don’t like to feel their feelings. With so many of us addicted to antidepressants, it’s a small wonder that sadness is resented in America.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. What about the supporting cast? Gary Sinise and Shania Twain play Jeremy’s parents, but Lieutenant Dan (that’s the only way I can think of Sinise since “Forrest Gump”) has nothing to do except say some dad stuff, and they don’t let Shania sing. If Shania’s in your movie, let her sing a couple of bars, fergoodnesssakes.

woman in plaid shirt, man in red shirt
Shania Twain and K.J. Apa play mother and son in “I Still Believe.” (Lionsgate)

Apa’s set to break into higher-profile roles. He’s sort of a mix between a young Josh Hartnett and Jim Halpert of “The Office,” except that he radiates decency instead of the latter’s sarcasm. When he sings of his love for God, and of his fiancée, and asks his audience for their healing prayers regarding her dying girl status, it’s touching.

Britt Robertson is always wonderful and falls into the same category of across-the-board adorableness as Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, and Lily James. Here, she takes the dying girl role and makes it the core that fuels the emotional momentum of “I Still Believe,” sort of like Iron Man’s glowy chest thingy.

groom and bride at beach wedding
K.J. Apa and Britt Robertson play a married couple in “I Still Believe.” (Lionsgate)

Yes, “I Still Believe” is a Christian movie, but there’s no proselytizing, although there are numerous lyrics about faith and forgiveness. “I Still Believe” is kind of a movie version of singer Gavin DeGraw’s lyric:

“For the young lovers, taking the hill, One plants the flag while the other is killed, When the wine pours we raise our cups, Young love is sacrifice, young love is tough, Young love is innocent, young love is us.”

Gag me with a spoon? You know what? Not so much, actually.

Why I View These Movies Differently

There’s another Gavin—stand-up comedian Gavin McInnes—who does a bit about moving from the city to the suburbs and being floored by how much more wholesome life is there. If you’ve lived in Manhattan for the 10 years it takes to be dubbed a “true New Yorker,” you know he’s got a point.

After 30 years of Manhattan living, I find I’ve become strangely warped. To preface all of this, let me state for the record that I am a man of faith. Like, unshakable faith. Which comes from having been a seeker: searching for 40 years, turning over every rock. Einstein did a similar thing in science and ended up at the same conclusion—the divine exists. Yup. The divine is real. And I am obviously as smart as Einstein. Most advanced scientists eventually conclude that the exquisite order, so readily apparent in the cosmos, can only come from a vast intelligence.

Older man and younger man talking
Gary Sinise (L) and K.J. Apa play father and son in “I Still Believe.” (Lionsgate)

However, living in New York, cynicism accumulates like lint in the washing machine of one’s soul. This cynicism-lint gathers in the corners of the subconscious due to the undetectable dust particles of materialism, but that’d be a long explanation. Suffice it to say, for years now, I’ve loathed Christian movies and Christian music, even though they’re talking about the same stuff I believe in. It’s just the presentation I object to, not the content.

But when I go and let it wash over me, deep down, my soul aligns with Britt Robertson talking about the divine—having personally witnessed the power of prayer healing people, like, to the point where doctors at prestigious hospitals said they’d never witnessed anything like it in the history of the hospital. Seen that happen at a few different hospitals, actually.

Other critics are outraged that there aren’t any people of color in this film. I’m of color myself, but this materialist thinking, that every kind of person should be in every film, doesn’t concern me here, because the divine that’s talked about in the film is for everyone.

Hollywood once made an attempt to uphold moral standards. That’s all been changed by the creeping accumulation of materialist thought-lint obscuring the fact that all art originally depicted gods. Go to any museum. All the early stuff—it’s all gods and saints. Art is meant to uplift. Faith-based films, albeit heavy-handedly, attempt to heal. So why trash them? They always have their hearts in the right place. Besides, people are not stupid; they know what they like and why they like it. Just take a look at that Rotten Tomatoes score.

2 men, 2 women posing
(L–R) Britt Robertson, K.J. Apa, Shania Twain, and Gary Sinise at an event for “I Still Believe.” (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

‘I Still Believe’
Directors: Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin
Starring: Britt Robertson, Gary Sinise, K.J. Apa, Shania Twain, Melissa Roxburgh, Nathan Parsons
Rated: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes
Release Date: March 13
Rated: 3 stars out of 5

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch