Two years ago, Andrew and Jon Erwin, known as the Erwin Brothers struck gold with the film I Can Only Imagine. The film was not only a box office hit but a critical hit with critics who look down on the christian movie genre.
The Erwin Brothers believed they had found a formula of selling christian films to secular audiences, however the strategy of doing so becomes the Achilles’ heel of I Still Believe.
Following the model of I Can Only Imagine, I Still Believe is a film based on the true story of a popular christian signer. Jeremy Camp (KJ Apa) is a college student who moves from Indiana to California with dreams of becoming a successful musician. While in college, he meets the girl of his dreams Melissa(Britt Robertson), and falls head over heels in love.
However, their relationship is tested from the jump as Melissa is stricken with terminal cancer and is given only months to live. Jeremy’s journey with Melissa not only shapes his life but the lives of many others who will become inspired by his tragedy and her story.
In their attempt to bring in new audiences, I Still Believe waters down it’s storytelling to the point of lulling audiences on both sides. Secular critics complain about storytelling in christian movies not because of it’s presentation, but it’s subject matter. You can’t sell religion to those who despise it, especially if it’s Christianity.
I Still Believe attempts to bring in those who have looked down on the genre for many years but dragging the unwillingly to church is just not the right idea. Not to mention, the attempt to open doors for the secular audience leaves your base with nothing genuine to sink their teeth into. Camp’s rise in the music scene is glossed over making an career a secondary plot point showing how the movie doesn’t focus enough of details that strike interest.
The film’s attempt to tone down scripture results in a pasted together excuse to fill lapses in dialogue with unlicensed christian music. The Erwin Brothers rely on young actors to carry the emotional weight of the scenes but they don’t have the depth to do so, turning real conflict into melodrama.
I Still Believe cannot find the sweet mix of scripture and entertainment and unlike I Can Only Imagine, the film isn’t engaging or well acted to enough to create magic.