“I Still Believe”, the newest film from the Erwin Brothers, is the most Nicolas Sparks film, not written by Nicolas Sparks. Based on the true story of singer Jeremy Camp. KJ Apa playing Jeremy is a great stepping stone for a leading man career. KJ does an admirable job, doing his own singing and guitar playing. While Britt Robertson as Melissa, brings such warmth, strength and beauty in every sense of the word. Apa and Robertson are marvelous together and have great on-screen chemistry. Veteran actor Gary Sinise in a supporting role exhibits a natural ease and reminds us why he’s one of our finest actors. It’s a heartfelt, engaging movie bristling with a great soundtrack. It’s that kind of movie that brings hope and we could all use that sorely right now. “I Still Believe” proves there is always hope in midst of tragedy, and that faith tested is the only faith worth sharing.
Filmmaking siblings, the Erwin Brothers return after their mainstream success of their 2018 movie “I Can Only Imagine”. It’s not surprising to see the faith-based filmmakers Andrew and Jon Erwin directing another based on a true story, musical drama based on a hit contemporary Christian song and artist.
Their newest film “I Still Believe”, is the true life story of Christian music mega star Jeremy Camp and his remarkable journey of love and loss that proves there is always hope in midst of tragedy, and that faith tested is the only faith worth sharing. If you know or follow the career of Jeremy Camp, the story of the Christian music star and his wife Melissa, you won’t be surprised by anything that transpires in “I Still Believe”.
Actually even if you don’t know their story, you’ll still know the movie. We’ve seen this done many times, from “Love Story” to “A Walk to Remember” to “The Fault in Our Stars”. This is the most Nicolas Sparks film, not written by Nicolas Sparks.
This is that kind of movie of two young people in love. One gets sick or is already sick. We get to know and like the couple, and because we take a liking to them, we root for them. “I Still Believe” is a faith-based (but not heavily played in it’s sermons) love story with sparkling performances by KJ Apa (Archie on “Riverdale” tv series) as Jeremy and Britt Robertson (“Tomorrowland”) as Melissa, who have a meet-cute at California’s Calvary Chapel Bible College in 1999 and make an instant connection.
We meet Jeremy on the day he’s getting ready to leave for college. He’s leaving behind his parents (Gary Sinise and country star Shania Twain) and younger brothers including one brother who has special needs, but there’s love and support all around this family. The soundtrack kicks off instantly with Collective Soul’s terrific tune “Run”, as Jeremy makes his way west, with his dream of becoming a singer and songwriter.
At the college, Jeremy meets his musical hero, Jean-Luc La Joie (Nathan Parsons), a cool-guy Christian singer and alum of the bible college who takes Jeremy under his wing and gives him advice about songwriting. There’s a short lived romantic triangle involving Jean-Luc, Jeremy and Melissa, but it’s just about the most wholesome romantic triangle in movie history.
We see Jeremy and Melissa are finding their way romantically when Melissa is struck with Stage 3C cancer. Through all her surgeries and chemo, through the pain, all the way through Jeremy and Melissa getting married on the beach to the inevitable setback, they’re always there for each other.
“I Still Believe” is a great stepping stone for a leading man career for KJ Apa. KJ does an admirable job, doing his own singing and guitar playing. He does a terrific job performing Camp’s real-life compositions, including the title track, a tribute to his beloved Melissa. While he doesn’t resemble Jeremy Camp, he gives an emotional, charismatic, and realistic portrayal of a man who has found the love of his life, who will stand by her side, as he trusts in God, no matter what challenges they face.
I really like Britt Robertson as an actress. She is beautiful, adorable and a real talent. I loved her performance in “Tomorrowland” and in her role as Melissa in “I Still Believe”. There’s intelligence and talent within her, and she becomes the engine that drives this movie’s emotional momentum. Britt Robertson infuses Melissa with such warmth and strength and beauty in every sense of the word, it’s easy to understand how Jeremy would instantly fall for her. Both Apa and Robertson are marvelous together and have great on-screen chemistry, that could be just as great as Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams.
These faith based films has secured it’s share of A-list actors including: Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Garner, Dennis Quaid and now Gary Sinise. Although unfortunately we don’t see a lot of Gary Sinise and Shania Twain (who was terrific in last years racing film “Trading Paint” with John Travolta) as Jeremy’s parents.
Sinise gets the smallest role out of the past veteran actors, which is unfortunate because I wanted more from him. At least the Erwin brothers give him one showcase to shine, in a devastatingly emotional, father and son scene, where he talks about the disappointments in his life but how each one of them has brought him closer to God. Gary Sinise exhibits a natural ease and reminds us why he’s one of our finest actors.
The structure of the plot and the timing of a few sequences made the story feel rushed at times, but made the pacing move along. There’s one moment where Jeremy and Melissa get into an argument and Jeremy heads back to his home, where as soon as he arrives, he must drive all the way back because something terrible has happened to Melissa. While this certainly helps the pacing, as the 1 hour and 56 minutes is quick and gets to the point. It feels as though there was something more in his return home, because it certainly felt as though there was more screen time for Sinise that was left on the cutting room floor.
The script is also pretty smart, giving Jeremy and Melissa anguish and misery to face together as a couple. But we also get to see them in love in a first date that sees them staring at the stars in a planetarium. This is where the screenwriters write a great piece of dialogue as Melissa points to a brightly shining cluster and explains to Jeremy, “It’s called Andromeda. It’s a galaxy…with one trillion stars, all shining together. That, my new friend, is the definition of wonder. God is so infinitely vast, and this is his painting”. Sweet moments like this helps us as viewers bond to the couple especially as things get harder for them. The writers also have the self-restraint to not make the movie about Camp’s rising-star status and instead, letting that occur subtly in the background.
For all those who stocked up on Kleenex and toilet paper, over this quarantine, will finally get to put those bulk family size packs to use towards this sweet and lovely tearjerker. This is the kind of movie where you know what’s coming, but it’s also the kind of movie that brings hope and we could all use that sorely right now.
It’s a heartfelt, engaging movie bristling with a great soundtrack. You can actually enjoy the movie from beginning to end without realizing it’s part of the faith-based film pipeline. The Erwin brothers don’t over preach the word to where it feels like a sermon or Sunday Church. “I Still Believe” is more mainstream than what you are probably expecting.
Jeremy and Melissa’s life together is a love story right out of a song and deserving of a romance for the big screen. Young love is powerful, transformational… and sometimes tragic and “I Still Believe” gives us the highs and the lows, and what comes after.
GRADE: ★★★1/2☆☆ (3 & 1/2 out of 5)