Director: Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin
Cast: KJ Apa, Britt Robertson, Gary Sinise, Shania Twain
Runtime: 1 hr 56 mins
Released By: Clover Films
Opening Day: 2 April 2020
Synopsis: One love can change your life. One life can change the world. An inspiring love story for the ages. Rediscover the wonder of love in I STILL BELIEVE, based on the real-life story of chart-topping singer Jeremy Camp. The movie chronicle Jeremy Camp’s personal story of his first marriage to Melissa Lynn Henning-Camp, who died of ovarian cancer in 2001, less than a year after they married. Jeremy Camp’s remarkable journey of love and loss proves there is always hope amid tragedy.
You should know right from the beginning that ‘I Still Believe’ is a faith-based film, and by that we mean its characters will discuss and re-affirm their belief in God the Almighty. If any mention of God makes you uncomfortable in the first place, then this is not the movie for you; but for those at least willing to accept that our fates are ultimately determined by a higher presence, and that all we should try to discern our purpose in order to live our lives to its fullest, then you’d find inspiration, emotion and even empowerment in this real-life love story.
Adapted from the autobiography of Christian music star Jeremy Camp, the story tells of Jeremy’s journey of love with his college sweetheart Melissa. It begins back in 1999 when Jeremy (KJ Apa) moved from Indiana to Southern California to attend Calvary Chapel Bible College; there, he meets earnest and pretty Melissa (Britt Robertson), a college senior whom he makes an instant connection with at a concert by a Christian rock band called The Kry. Before long, they are going on dates to Melissa’s special place (a planetarium where the ‘sky’ lights up with magical stars) while trying to keep their romance in school under wraps.
What forces them to fundamentally re-examine their commitment to each other is an unexpected diagnosis of Stage III cancer, which leads Melissa to have to drop out of school and undergo chemotherapy. It is no secret that Melissa dies at the end, but this is a story where the focus is on the journey than the destination. In the intervening years, Jeremy will demonstrate his love for Melissa by standing steadfastly by her side despite her occasional emotional outbursts, engage in a simple yet utterly beautiful marriage ceremony by the beach to the sounds of Haley Reinhart’s version of ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’, and finally be forced to confront the horrible disease yet again.
With the emphasis on the couple, there is understandably less detail on Jeremy’s ascending musical career, which is boosted by the support of The Kry’s lead singer Jean-Luc (Nathan Dean). An alumnus of Calvary Chapel, Jean-Luc recognises Jeremy’s talent right from the beginning, and gives the budding singer opportunity to showcase that during his band’s gigs. There is some early tension between Jeremy and Jean-Luc, given how the latter is also smitten with Melissa, but this is the sort of movie where such conflicts are handled with the utmost nobility and dignity.
Besides giving short shrift to Jeremy’s rise as a singer, the scripting also neglects Jeremy’s parents (played by Gary Sinise and country-music star Shania Twain) who lend physical, moral and spiritual support. In particular, there is an utterly moving scene late in the film that shows beautifully how much of a pillar of strength Jeremy’s father is to him, which will also make you wish there were more prominence to the role his parents had played throughout. Both Sinise and Twain make the most of thinly written parts, but you’d wish they were given more prominence in the first place.
Compared to their earlier crossover box-office hit ‘I Can Only Imagine’, this latest from Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin (billed collectively as the Erwin Brothers) is less narratively polished; yet what it does have in its favour is earnestness and authenticity. To their credit, there is no attempt by the Erwins to push any sort of religious agenda; instead, they concentrate simply on being as faithful to their real-life subjects as possible, and allow their convictions, both to God and to each other, to emerge naturally from there. They also make little embellishments to the storytelling itself, again trusting the poignancy of the real-life tragedy to shine through on its own.
That the film is as affecting as it is is also credit to Apa and Robertson. The former is magnetic in the role, not just in how he portrays Jeremy’s transformation from bright-eyed college student to clear-minded young adult, but also in his terrific performance of Camp’s compositions; the latter is sparkling in the warmth and strength she brings to Melissa, whether romancing Jeremy or dealing with the curveballs which life throws at her one after another. Both are immensely appealing next to each other, and their charisma makes rooting for them almost effortless.
As much as it is a faith-based film, “I Still Believe’ is not just a story for Christians, but an affirmation of the very definition of love and marriage that is found not in grand or even poetic declarations but rather in the everyday actions and sacrifices that two people in a relationship together are willing to make for each other. It’s a beautiful love story all right, and a tearjerker through and through, so if the references to God do not turn you off, we guarantee that you’ll be won over by this sweet, sincere and stirring tribute to mutual devotion.
(Sweet, sincere and stirring, this chronicle of romance in the face of tragedy is a beautiful reminder of what it means to love someone through thick and thin)
Review by Gabriel Chong