How do you top something that exceeded your wildest imagination? As hard as one might try it is nearly an impossible task.
This is a question that filmmaker brothers Jon and Andy Erwin have pondered for the last two years. Bolstered by the phenomenal success of their 2018 breakout hit, I Can Only Imagine, the Alabama-bred siblings realized that they had a tough act to follow.
Rather than trying to figure out a way to exceed the $85 million dollars the aforementioned biopic earned at the box office, they determined very quickly that it was essential to remain true to the formula they have become known for: telling a good story that will expand the reach of the Gospel through the medium of film.
That good story is their latest cinematic release, I Still Believe, a biopic based on the unlikely romance between contemporary Christian music superstar Jeremy Camp and his first wife Melissa. The movie stars Riverdale sensation K.J. Apa and Britt Robertson (Tomorrowland), with Hollywood veteran Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump, Apollo 13), and country music superstar Shania Twain in supporting roles.
THE MOVIE IN A MINUTE
The year is 1999 and Jeremy Camp is a young, aspiring musician who would like nothing more than to honor God through his music. Leaving his Indiana home for the warmer climes of California and a college education, Jeremy soon spies coed Melissa Henning in the audience at a local concert. Impulsively, he introduces himself to her and quickly discovers that she is attracted to him too. However, Melissa is reluctant to pursue a dating relationship as she fears it will create an awkward situation between Jeremy and a mutual friend, who is also romantically interested in her. Jeremy is relentless in his pursuit of her until they eventually find themselves in a dating relationship. But then comes shattering and potentially life-threatening news: Melissa has cancer. The diagnosis does nothing to deter Jeremy’s love for her and the couple eventually marries shortly thereafter. They soon find themselves walking a fine line between building a life together and suffering caused by her illness.
THE GOOD AND BAD OF I STILL BELIEVE
Equal parts romance and learning to emotionally sustain one’s self in the face of heartbreak, it is refreshing to see I Still Believe deal with the topic of why our prayers sometimes go unanswered and why people are not always healed on this side of heaven. Through Jeremy’s story, the Erwins have done a commendable job of illustrating that God can use anything to bring hope in the midst of a tragedy.
Through clever scripting, Melissa (Robertson) is heard many times throughout the film’s 115 minutes, assertively managing her spiritual expectations with declarations like, “Maybe God has chosen something bigger for me,” or “If one person’s life is changed by what I go through than it is all worth it.”
In his first major movie performance, Apa shines in his role as Jeremy Camp. The young television star soars in his ability to effectively demonstrate Jeremy’s fun-loving personality coupled with his raging battle to accept God’s will. In addition, Apa actually performs and sings all of the music seen in the film … and he does it well.
Robertson, a Hollywood up and comer for her work in such films as Tomorrowland, The Space Between Us, and A Dog’s Purpose, does her best to convey romantic zeal, anger, and ultimately acceptance of her character’s disease. Not an easy role, I just wish the Erwins had given her a bit more latitude to explore these emotions.
Sinise and Twain are underutilized in the movie, but the scenes they do appear in pack some punch … especially when Sinise’s character confronts a grieving Jeremy upon Melissa’s passing. His words are soothing, gripping, and provide comfort in a moment no father ever wants to face.
While the movie is a bit slow in its pacing, I Still Believe more than makes up for it in other areas. The Erwins have truly upped their game cinematically. The concert sequences are visually fantastic, especially the oceanside music festival performance. Also, the musical score and soundtrack are quite appealing and fit the tone and vibe of that era.
IN THE END
Jeremy Camp’s story is not an easy one to tell. With so much promise at a young age, he was dealt a blow that so many others never really overcome. Yet, he was willing to hang in, work through his grief, and ultimately find healing through his faith. That led him to write “I Still Believe”, an anthem that would provide hope for millions. While the movie doesn’t quite capture the emotional impact of the song, it will still stir the hearts of audiences to be encouraged and realize that there is hope in the most difficult of circumstances.