Review: "I Still Believe" a Strong, but Painful Love Story
This biopic about Christian musician Jeremy Camp and his late wife, Melissa, would be pure tragedy were it not for the redemptive power of their faith.
***A brief word of warning: while we endeavor not to give away the entire movie, there are some significant plot revelations in our review. ***
I Still Believe, the latest movie from Christian filmmakers Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin, tells the true story of Jeremy Camp and his first wife, Melissa. The action plays out from when the two meet at college and runs through their brief marriage, which ends with her death from cancer less than one year after they take their vows.
The Erwin Brothers, hoping to follow up the success of their 2018 hit, I Can Only Imagine, are at the top of their game in this picture, which is the first from their new Kingdom Studios, an entity created in conjunction with Lionsgate. They co-directed it, as is their usual approach, Jon co-wrote the script with Christian screenwriter, Jon Gunn, and they took the movie's title from a hit song by the same name that Camp wrote shortly after his wife's death in 2001.
The script is crisp, the cinematography rich and the story compelling. The cast, too, delivers the goods, with particularly strong performances coming from K.J. Apa and Britt Roberston in the lead roles. Christian actors Gary Sinise, as Camp's father, Tom, and Cameron Arnett, who plays Melissa's doctor, both add a lot to the picture. It is Apa and Robertson, though, who not surprisingly carry the show. They have great on-screen chemistry and convincingly handle the awkward early stages of their characters' acquaintance, the blossoming relationship and the heavy later phases after their nuptials when the disease begins Melissa's steady and devastating march toward death.
And it is that issue that, in our view, colors this picture in a way that is less than ideal. The love story is tender, their Christian faith steadfast and encouraging, and the familial affection and support around them heartening, but Melissa's suffering and death are so agonizing as to nearly completely overwhelm all of it.
That is not a knock against the Erwins per se, mind you, because it is not for nothing, after all, that cancer is so rarely at the heart of movie plots. It is a painful and debilitating killer that far too many moviegoers have witnessed themselves in real life, among family or friends, and there is little that can redeem it or the human wreckage it leaves in its wake. And though we Believers know the redemptive power of Christ's triumph over both sin and death are Gospel truth, as a matter of on-screen entertainment, this sort of material makes for a very steep climb, indeed.
So, there is much to like here in the story, the filmmaking and the performances - including all the music, which is very good - and we absolutely recommend you go see I Still Believe this opening weekend. That said, we rate it only an 8.5 out of 10, because the denouement is so heavy as to darken the otherwise uplifting and inspirational aspects of the picture that would normally have prompted us to give it a higher rating. In a word, we left the theater rather downcast and suspect many others will as well.