In 2012, brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin released their debut feature film, October Baby, their first attempt at bringing their Christian beliefs to the big screen. Since then, they’ve made three other movies centered on Christianity with increasing star wattage and box office returns. Their fifth film, I Still Believe, may become their biggest hit yet.
The film is a biopic of Christian musician Jeremy Camp (K.J. Apa of Riverdale fame), whose hit song, “I Still Believe,” was inspired by his relationship with his wife, Melissa (Britt Robertson). After meeting at Calvary Chapel Bible College in California, the two develop a will-they-or-won’t-they type of relationship, in part due to Melissa’s strong friendship with another singer, Jean-Luc La Joie (Nathan Parsons).
But the bond between Jeremy and Melissa is undeniable, and it only becomes more so when Melissa is diagnosed with cancer. Both of their faiths are tested throughout the ordeal, with Jeremy turning to his family, including his father (Gary Sinise) and mother (Shania Twain), and to his music to get him through.
The biggest problem with modern films with a Christian theme has not been their overt religiosity, but rather their lack of good storytelling. Too often, as was the case in the October Baby, the focus on the message prevented the Erwin brothers from seeing that their filmmaking skills were lacking.
They seem to have learned from their earlier mistakes, as they simply tell the romance of Jeremy and Melissa instead of pushing an ideology. That’s not to say that faith isn’t front and center — God, the healing power of prayer, and more are invoked countless times. But it never comes across as proselytizing; rather, it’s just a story of how these people’s beliefs shaped and helped them.
In fact, were the religiousness of the film not so overt, it could easily fit into the box of other recent ill-fated young romances like The Fault in Our Stars and Me Before You. The courtship of Jeremy and Melissa is much more chaste than those films, but it’s told in a way that the love between them can still be felt deeply.
It helps tremendously to have two charismatic, photogenic, and recognizable actors as the leads. Both Apa and Robertson have proven themselves in other successful projects, and their experience and chemistry keeps the story moving when it threatens to get bogged down. Solid performances by Parsons, Sinise, and Melissa Roxburgh as Melissa’s sister elevate the film, as well.
I Still Believe is most definitely aimed at Christian music fans and Christians in general, but it’s conceivable that those who doesn’t share the same beliefs can get something out of watching it. It’s a story cloaked in religion, but one told well enough that it never feels like a Sunday School lesson.