I Still Believe

 

            “Based on a true story.”  That allows a lot of leeway in how it's presented, in this case with the feel of a gushy “family movie” combined with a sentimental “faith film.”  Everybody's earnest and sincere, even the cameo at the end from the “real” Jeremy Camp.

            But this movie isn't about the middle-aged Jeremy Camp with the wife and their three lovely children, silhouetted against the beach at sunset (which is the movie's last scene). This is about a kid who's first going off to college from Lafayette, Indiana, suitcase and guitar in hand.  This Jeremy (played by New Zealander K.J. Apa, who stars in the Riverdale series) finds his way to a Christian concert where he befriends one of the musicians, instantly becoming a backstage hand.  In no time he's asked to come up on stage and perform, and the audience responds to him so much that he becomes an immediate star.  (It can't be this easy.)

            He meets Melissa (Britt Roberts) the first night, and is immediately attracted to her.  The trouble is, she's already dating a musician, so at first she and Jeremy just gaze at each other from a distance.  But it doesn't take long before we're tangled up in the old love triangle, the irony being that the guy she was with was also the guy who gave Jeremy his first break in the biz.  (So “destiny” overrides protocol?)

            Now comes the romantic arc, where Melissa and Jeremy declare their love for each other, at the same time Jeremy's career is skyrocketing, and his concerts are full of devoted fans of his unique brand of praise music.  But all the bonhommie comes crashing down when Melissa contracts cancer.  Now comes the agonizing part, as the disease does its predictable ravaging, including hair loss.  A remission is celebrated as a miracle from God, and the loving couple enjoys their romantic wedding on the beach, surrounded by loving family.  And then the cancer returns.

            Naturally, in a faith-based film, we're going to deal with questions like “Why does God allow this?”  “Why doesn't God answer our prayers for healing?”  The best response actually comes from Jeremy's Dad (Gary Sinise), who tells his son that the way he loved his wife to the end was an inspiration to him.  Jeremy, after a brief fit of anger, writes “I Still Believe,” which becomes a best-selling hit. 

            It's both terribly sad and intermittently inspirational.  True, Britt Roberts, at age 30, is too old to play a college freshman, but this is more about the 22-year-old K.J.Apa getting his lingering face-shot screen time as the latest teenage heartthrob.  Apa, at least, can sing, and play the guitar. But we find ourselves inundated with this 20-year-old memory of the “real” Jeremy Camp, where his beloved Melissa is forever sainted, virtually without flaw.  It's not unusual, of course, for widowed spouses to canonize the departed one.  But it was Teddy Kennedy who said in his eulogy about his brother Jack: “My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life.”  This movie would have been better served if it operated on that assumption.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association