[Screen It]


(2020) (KJ Apa, Britt Robertson) (PG)

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Drama: A college couple calls on their faith as they contend with the young woman's cancer diagnosis.

It's the late 1990s and Jeremy Camp (KJ APA) is an aspiring singer/songwriter who's left his mom, Terry (SHANIA TWAIN), dad, Tom (GARY SINISE), and younger brothers in Indiana to attend college at Calgary Chapel in California. When Jeremy meets alumnus and professional musician Jean-Luc (NATHAN PARSONS) and ends up working backstage at one of his concerts, the freshman thinks his fortunes have changed in ways he couldn't have imagined. And then he sets sights on classmate Melissa Henning (BRITT ROBERTSON) in the crowd at the concert and he's instantly smitten.

The two become fast friends verging on something more, but Melissa is reluctant as she knows that Jean-Luc is likewise romantically interested in her, although the feeling isn't mutual in that regard. But that becomes the least of her concerns when she's diagnosed with cancer, all of which draws her and Jeremy closer. As they contend with that unexpected development, they lean heavily on their faith to get them through it.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10

"God works in mysterious ways." That's usually the answer to most any question posed by those of faith (who are having that tested in some fashion) and those who are skeptics or don't believe (trying to prove their point) when something truly awful happens to one or more people.

While many will accept that answer in the old Bruce Hornsby "that's just the way it is" fashion, others view it as a cop-out that doesn't address why good people, especially those who are ultra devout and therefore should seemingly get special divine consideration, die in car accidents, tornadoes or suffer from and often die from any number of diseases, such as cancer.

The latter is the topic du jour of "I Still Believe," the latest faith-based offering from the Harmon Brothers (Andrew and Jon) who've been behind previous related offerings such as "Woodlawn" and "I Can Only Imagine." It's the true-life tale (presumably with some artistic liberties) of Jeremy Camp, a real-life singer-songwriter who fell in love with a classmate, Melissa, at college back in 2000, only to have her be diagnosed with cancer.

As both are attending Calvary Chapel Bible College, Jeremy (KJ Apa) and Melissa (Britt Robertson) are obviously believers, not just of religious faith, but also love at first sight (at least on his part). In fact, things are looking downright good for him when we first meet Jeremy after he travels from his home in Indiana (where his parents are played by Gary Sinise and Shania Twain) to the coastal college. There, he ends up working backstage at a concert being put on by his Christian music idol and school alumnus, Jean-Luc (Nathan Parsons) and then locks eyes with Melissa in the crowd.

He's instantly smitten, but while she's interested, she's also conflicted as she promised God she wouldn't allow any distractions to sidetrack her studies. And yet there he is, complicated by the fact that Jean-Luc always has eyes for her. Holy soap opera, Batman, what will she do? Well, the first half of this nearly two-hour film focuses mostly on that, and that's barely enough to hold one's attention for anyone who doesn't have a vested interest in the real-life Camp's formative days.

Well, the disease then rears its ugly head and more drama kicks in and that hour or so of simply letting us hang around the characters works as we now find ourselves vested in them, their developing situation and the outcome (for those not already familiar with how things played out in real life). Yes, it's sort of the standard "disease of the week" cable TV movie as filtered through a faith-based lens. Thankfully, like they've done in the past, the Harmons don't lay it on thick, thus avoiding much of the "preaching to the choir" issue that afflicts many such films and makes secular crowds turn up their noses at the thought of watching them.

While there's nothing here we haven't seen countless times before (and sometimes done far, far better especially in so-called Oscar bait movies), what's present works well enough, especially regarding the performances, that it will likely appease all sorts of moviegoers. It might not go much above and beyond the "mysterious ways" answer, but it certainly feels heartfelt and sincere in the way it tells its tale. And for that, "I Still Believe" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed February 26, 2020 / Posted March 13, 2020

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