Cinematic Releases: I Still Believe (2020) - Reviewed

There are based-on-a-true-story movies that contain the honesty of real life. Then there are those that feel manufactured to get a specific reaction. They are full of clich├ęs and seem to be based more on movie formulas than on fact. The faith-based drama I Still Believe belongs mainly in the latter category. Adapted from the memoir by Christian singer Jeremy Camp, it is about the romance between an aspiring musician and a young woman he falls for at first sight. Most of their conversations are focused on their shared love of God, making it a challenge to really buy into their love for each other. The biggest problem is the very obvious plot machinations that create the necessary crisis to set up the necessary redemption. The message is a little deeper than expected, certainly heartfelt even if it is delivered in an extremely heavy-handed way. However, I had too hard a time believing I Still Believe to enjoy it.

The story begins in 1999, with Jeremy starting his freshman year at Calvary Chapel Bible College. He immediately meets, and pursues, Melissa. Soon, she gets sick and they face a series of trials that test their love as Jeremy embarks on a career as a singer.

All of this is pretty standard stuff that is unlikely to surprise viewers. You can probably easily fill in the blanks. It is quite clearly meant to be a tearjerker, but the whole thing is so formulaic. The emotions do not ring true, even though this actually happened. There is no suspense. It follows the same path as every romantic drama involving an illness. In this case, each event is designed to produce more discussions about God’s plan and their devotion to him.

Despite the fact that I am not religious, it would have been interesting to see them dive further into that material. Where does their faith come from? What does it mean to them? I do not think we ever see them at church, so how do they personally exercise their beliefs on a daily basis? Instead of any of this information, it is a lot of talk about prayer and Jeremy singing about his love for God. Their connection is assumed; no effort is made to truly explore it. This will undoubtedly not be an issue for the target audience, but for those of us who do not inherently understand what the religious experience feels like for Jeremy and Melissa, it is not very convincing. 

Another curious aspect of the movie is that, while he is dedicating so much of his time to supporting Melissa through her illness, his career seems to be taking off. I say “seems to” because, besides showing him sing a few songs, I Still Believe spends almost no time on his career. We see him get an opportunity via a friend of Melissa’s, then, all of a sudden, he is holding large concerts. The movie is about how his personal life and faith shaped his music but, told this way, it appears success just magically happened for him, no big deal. It is kind of distracting, when it should be inspiring.

I Still Believe is well-meaning and pleasant, with likable performances from leads K.J. Apa and Britt Robertson. Yet it is not particularly good at doing what it is trying to do. If you already believe, this may reaffirm your faith. For the rest, it is a tear-jerking drama that does not know the right notes to play your heartstrings.

--Ben Pivoz