Movies

The Entire Plot Of The Christian Rock Biopic/Cancer Weepie ‘I Still Believe’ Recreated With Reviews

I debated whether we should play my favorite game, Plot Recreated With Reviews, with I Still Believe. That’s the game in which we attempt to recreate an entire film using nothing but quotes from reviews. I debated because, inasmuch as I Still Believe looks and feels exactly like a Nicholas Sparks adaptation (by far my favorite type of film to recreate with reviews), this one is based on a true story, about a real person — Christian recording artist Jeremy Camp — about his first wife’s cancer. It’s based on his memoir of the same name.

Surely we shouldn’t joke about cancer, right? Perhaps not, but this is still a movie we’re probably not going to see on a global pandemic-dampened weekend in which many of us are cooped up inside in desperate need of entertainment. And true or not, it still has the exact arc as a Nicholas Sparks movie.

I Still Believe is also a faith-based film, from the Erwin Brothers, who had a massive hit with their last Christian musical biopic, 2018’s I Can Only Imagine — the fourth-highest grossing musical biopic of all time, believe it or not. By all accounts I Still Believe is one of the good ones, about people finding solace in faith during tough times rather than one of the culture war-stoking ones, about evil fang-toothed secular globalists trying to steal apple pie from your granny and turn the world’s largest religion into a persecuted minority. I Still Believe is even being fairly positively reviewed, tracking a very un-chaste 69% on RottenTomatoes when I started this piece (a late-breaking pan dropped it down to a decidedly less nice 64% before I finished).

Whatever the case, it’s still a movie that I very much wanted to hear described by the critics who saw it much more than I actually wanted to see it myself. Cancer shouldn’t stop us from enjoying reviews, should it? It is in this spirit that we persist.

THE SETUP

It’s September 1, 1999 when the film begins. –Indiewire

When first seen, Jeremy –THR

…played by K.J. Apa, who plays Archie on “Riverdale” with dark, handsome features that look like a cross between 90s-era Josh Hartnett and Wes Bentley –MovieMom

is leaving his family in Lafayette, Indiana, including his supportive parents and his developmentally challenged younger brother (Reuben Dodd), to attend a Christian college in Southern California. -THR

Gary Sinise eases up on his usual intensity as Jeremy’s supportive dad. Music superstar Shania Twain, whose many gifts do not include an ability to deliver convincing lines of dialogue, plays Mom. –San Francisco Chronicle

Dad keeps a pizza joint delivery sign on top of the family’s ’80s AMC Eagle station wagon, but the parents have managed to buy the kid a new guitar before he heads off. –RogersMovieNation

“For you, music is a gift — what do you want to give to people?” -Indiewire

COLLEGE

Almost immediately after arriving at college, Jeremy meets one of his idols, Jean-Luc (Nathan Parsons, Roswell),

a perma-beanied French-Canadian smokeshow based on The Kry frontman Jean-Luc LaJoie -Indiewire

the lead singer of a successful Christian rock band -THR

whose busy schedule as a rock star apparently doesn’t stop him from hanging around his old campus for months at a time so that he can creep on an undergraduate named Melissa (“Tomorrowland” star Britt Robertson). -Indiewire

Jean-Luc invites Jeremy to help out during their campus concert. -THR

That’s Jeremy’s ambition, “making it.” His “struggle” to achieve that consists of talking his way backstage at a concert The Kry are giving on campus, asking for advice from songwriter Jean-Luc, and becoming a roadie for the night. -RogersMovieNation

La Joie says, “It’s not about making it. It’s about what the songs give to people. What do you want to give to people?” -MovieMom

Kudos to the real LaJoie, who must have so believed in the message of this film that he allowed the Erwin brothers to invent a crush he never had. -Indiewire

THE GIRL

Peeking out at the audience from backstage, Jeremy spots Melissa, singing to herself. She’s easy to notice because she looks more caught up in the music, and its message, than the rest of the audience. Also, Robertson appears lit from within. She exudes goodness. -SF Chronicle

It’s love at first sight, and Jeremy soon manages to awkwardly introduce himself. -THR

But while Melissa clearly returns his interest, her already close, if not romantic, relationship with Jean-Luc complicates any burgeoning relationship she might have with Jeremy. -THR

As Jean-Luc says, “I write love songs to God.” With maybe a girl in mind as he does, he jokes. -RogersMovieNation

THE COMPLICATION

A beach scene is supposed to be awkward, because of a barely there romantic triangle. Jean-Luc, who is Melissa’s friend, has a crush on her, and she does not want to hurt him by seeing Jeremy. -SF Chronicle

That is, until Jeremy convinces her that their love is destiny and that God must surely want them to be together. -THR

“What if God wants us to be together?” Camp asks after having known Robertson’s character for only a few days. –Texas Art And Film

“God wants us to run for it, not away from it!” -RogersMovieNation

Needless to say, it’s a compelling argument for Melissa, who, while observing a display at a planetarium, is moved to announce, “The God of a trillion stars knows my name!” -THR

“God is so infinitely vast,” Melissa says, “and this is his painting,” showing Camp a projection of the universe. -TexasArtFilm

Melissa reluctantly agrees to date Jeremy, without telling Jean-Luc. -SF Chronicle

When Jean-Luc eventually finds out about the couple’s romance, he seems momentarily hurt but immediately gets over it. -THR

This couple is as wholesome as they come. They don’t even kiss until they first say “I love you.” –CommonSenseMedia

THE OTHER COMPLICATION

Jeremy and Melissa are just getting to know each other, and the audience getting to know Jeremy, when Melissa gets sick. -SF Chronicle

Melissa is diagnosed with stage-3 ovarian cancer. -THR

Jeremy’s first reaction to the grim news is to offer his hand in marriage and weather the coming storm with the love of his life. -Indiewire

Both pray for signs if they should proceed with their relationship, and for a miracle. -TexasArtFilm

Scene after repetitive scene shows Melissa being ill but hopeful, and Jeremy being sad but encouraging. -SF Chronicle

THE STRUGGLE

As Melissa undergoes grueling surgeries and chemotherapy treatments, Jeremy becomes more and more successful in his musical career. He also takes to asking his concert audiences to pray for Melissa, recounting the story of her struggles in between inspirational songs. -THR

The film’s obvious attempt to erase any sex appeal has all the women in oversized plaid shirts in nearly every scene. -TexasArtFilm

Robertson’s commitment to the part doesn’t include ever, for one second, looking the least bit sick. A bandana covers the scalp she chose not to shave for the part, and fools no one. -RogersMovieNation

WAIT, WHAT?

Camp’s ascent from opening act to stadium stardom goes unmapped. One day he’s singing one song at a college venue, and a few months later, he’s settled as a household name preaching to large crowds. There’s no mention of a record deal, a tour, or any industry involvement aside from radio appearances where he asks his fans to pray for his wife. –The Wrap

The camerawork takes great care to show just how majestic and beloved Jeremy is, panning to worshipful crowds who eat up his between-film testimonies. Just about every scene is geared to underline the point that Jeremy is a talented singer, a great guy and a man of tireless, unbreakable belief in God’s plan. –ABC Tucson

“I Still Believe” runs almost two hours, but it frequently commits sins of omission. The Erwins’ film misses pertinent details and explanations, whether about Jeremy’s ascending music career or a seemingly random appearance by his family at his school. –LA Times

We don’t know Sinise’s character actually is a minister until well past the movie’s midpoint, when he — well, let’s just say he plays a significant role in the movie’s sweetest scene. -Variety

The prayers seem to work, as Melissa goes into remission and the couple enjoys a gorgeous beach wedding presided over by Jeremy’s dad, a former pastor. -THR

We get to see a lot of them staring at stars in a planetarium, singing tunes by the ocean, and spending time with family together. –BackseatDirectors

EDITORIALIZING

The leads are given only two speeds to work with: saintly acceptance of God’s will and melodramatic raging against the dying of the light. Think laying prostrate with grief on the hospital room floor or anger-sprinting through the rain. –World Mag

The script mostly requires Apa to look pained, which he does effectively. -SF Chronicle

His acting is a bit soap-opera-ish — constantly running his fingers through his hair in anguish, flirtation or whatever. He and Robertson have an onscreen attraction that is wholly dictated by the script and never believable. It’s more a “non-repulsion” than attraction. -RogersMovieNation

You won’t find any standout performances here, in fact, Apa appears to have read the Zac Efron playbook when it comes to haircuts, singing faces, and mannerisms. -TexasArtAndFilm

I can’t say as I’m a big fan of Christian pop music or Camp’s songs in particular. To my ears there’s a generic sameness to them, starting with plaintive, plucked guitar strings and inevitably building to soaring crescendos for pronouncements of faith and glory. It’s a white-people aural pudding. –TheFilmYap

As for how it all ends, the title – also an inspirational song nicely performed by Apa in the last reel – says it all. –Austin Chronicle

…plus an on-screen sell to evangelical site ChatAboutFaith.com. –GlobeAndMail

THAT BEING SAID

No, this isn’t a particularly subtle or sophisticated movie. But it’s a well-told one, by directing team the Erwin Brothers, Jon and Andrew. They’re all veterans of the Christian film school and seem to know its rhythms well. -TheFilmYap

Britt Robertson is the Meg Ryan of our age, only Hollywood isn’t so keen on rom-coms anymore. –HollywoodInToto

The proselytizing consistently grates, but the movie is so dramatically dull and drenched in a kind of processed American heartland emotional cheese that there is little to get either excited about or riled up over. -GlobeAndMail

Thankfully there are enough strong moments in I Still Believe to make it worthy of a recommendation, especially for its target demographic of religious evangelicals. There were times I got a little sleepy (both because I was sick and the pacing sagged), and it is not reinventing the wheel, but in the end, it is a sincere and sweet story of faith and love, and sometimes that’s enough. -BackseatDirectors

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.

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