I STILL BELIEVE – Review by Brandy McDonnell

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After the mainstream success of their 2018  movie “I Can Only Imagine,” it’s not surprising to see faith-based filmmakers Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin directing another fact-based musical drama based on a hit contemporary Christian song.

Earnest but maudlin, the romantic drama “I Still Believe” is based on the true story and anthem of the same name by singer-songwriter Jeremy Camp (KJ Apa, the CW’s “Riverdale”) whom we first meet as an Indiana teen from a cash-strapped Christian home eagerly heading to Calvary Chapel Bible College in California. His parents (Gary Sinise and Shania Twain) and his two younger brothers have opted to give up Christmas presents to send the aspiring musician off with a new guitar.

Soon after arriving at the picturesque school, he seeks out Jean-Luc La Joie (Nathan Parsons, ABC’s “Once Upon a Time”), frontman of the resident worship rock band The Kry, who becomes his musical mentor. Jean-Luc writes love songs for God and occasionally for a certain girl, his best friend Melissa (Britt Robertson, “Tomorrowland”).

Although Melissa only has platonic feelings for Jean-Luc, she and Jeremy are instantly attracted to each other.
But their awkward love triangle is forgotten when Melissa ends up in the hospital and is diagnosed with aggressive ovarian cancer.

With “I Still Believe,” the Erwin brothers raise the bar well above most faith-based films, in more ways than one.

As with “I Can Only Imagine,” their biopic of MercyMe frontman Bart Millard and his troubled relationship with his alcoholic father, “I Still Believe” features a solid cast of mainstream actors – including a bona fide heartthrob in Apa, who shows his musical chops singing Camp’s tunes – and decent production values. (After taking advantage of Oklahoma’s film incentives for “I Can Only Imagine,” the savvy filmmakers substitute scenic Alabama for California.)

Although the love triangle never quite works and the movie gets too long and melodramatic, “I Still Believe” also is a narrative improvement for the genre, depicting Christians as dealing with real-life problems and complex questions, like why does God allow good people to suffer.

Following the $86 million global haul for “I Can Only Imagine,” Lionsgate partnered with the Erwins to form a new production company, Kingdom Story, and “I Still Believe” is the first film to come down that pipeline. So, faith-based film fans can believe they will see more movies like this one coming soon to theaters.

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Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell writes features and reviews movies, music, events and the arts for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma's statewide newspaper, and NewsOK.com, the state's largest news Web site. Raised on a farm near Lindsay, Okla., she started her journalism career in seventh grade, when she was elected reporter for her school's 4-H Club. Taking her duties seriously, she began submitting stories to The Lindsay News, and worked for the local weekly through high school. She attended Oklahoma State University, where she worked for The Daily O'Collegian and earned her journalism degree with honors. She worked for three years at small Oklahoma dailies The Edmond Sun and Shawnee News-Star. In 2002, she joined The Oklahoman as a features reporter, writing about movies, the arts, events, families and nonprofits. She moved to The Oklahoman's entertainment desk in 2007. In 2004, she won a prestigious Journalism Fellowship in Child & Family Policy from the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Along with her membership in AWFJ, she also is a founding member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle. Brandy writes The Week In Women blog for AWFJ.org.