I STILL BELIEVE Review

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Becoming a teenage heart-throb is the dream of every young actor. But while the pull of stardom is very strong reaching that heart-throb status is never a guarantee of a long and successful Hollywood career.

Flash back to the late 1990s and Dawson’s Creek was the biggest show on television. Its male stars – James Van Der Beek, Joshua Jackson and Kerr Smith were on posters on every teenage girl’s wall around the world. Today all three are lucky to get small roles in television shows and B-Grade movies.

The next actor following in those foot-steps is young star K.J. Apa. The New Zealand local has risen to stardom as the star of Netflix’s very own Gothic teenage mystery show Riverdale where he plays comic book legend Archie Andrews, while his new film I Still Believe opens in cinemas across Thailand this week.

Apa’s movie career to date has been successful from a critical point of view. Films like A Dog’s Purpose and The Last Summer have certainly earned him more fan attention while his work on the gritty The Hate U Give gave him a chance to show the world his acting ability. I Still Believe sees Apa’s career take a whole new direction though… a direction that many of his young fans probably didn’t see coming – the starring role in what many people would label a faith-inspired film.

In I Still Believe Apa plays Jeremy Camp – one of the world’s highest selling Christian musicians. The movie follows Camp’s life from the moment he leaves the country-side home of his parents (played by Gary Sinise and Shania Twain) and heads to college. It is there that he meets musician Jean-Luc (Nathan Parsons – The Originals) who recognises Camp’s musical ability and starts him out on his career.

From there though things don’t exactly go the way that Camp wants them to. First he and Jean-Luc find themselves competing for the affection of the same woman – the beautiful Melissa (Britt Robertson – Tomorrowland). But even that doesn’t run a smooth path when Melissa is diagnosed with cancer and is soon battling massive odds to just survive.

Unlike many ‘religious’ films I Still Believe doesn’t come across as a preachy film. While both Jeremy and Melissa’s faith is there for all to see the film also explores themes of a hope and love as it depicts a young couple facing one of the biggest challenges of their lives. The screenplay also brilliantly allows the plot to explore the story of a man who begins to doubt his own faith as the odds stack up against Melissa.

While many religious films are also plagued by soap-opera style writing and bad acting that certainly isn’t the case with I Still Believe. Directors Andrew and Jon Erwin (October Baby) doesn’t hold back at all with this film. The audience will find themselves tested as the plot causes you to start to think about your own beliefs and how you would cope in circumstances where it appears that your partner may not survive. While Camp is a Christian the film would cause people of any faith or belief to look deep inside and explore how they would react in the same circumstance.

Likewise the directors also test their young stars. Britt Robertson is at times unrecognisable as she plays the terminally ill Melissa but the acting tour-de-force here is Kapa. In Riverdale we have had to watch Kapa deal with the death of his on screen father, which was brought about due to the off-screen death of actor Luke Perry, and once again here Kapa is put through an absolute acting wringer. Some of the sequences here as Camp goes through a personal and faith-driven breakdown would have been brutal and emotionally-toiling on Kapa. To the young star’s credit though he pulls them off with ease and many of his scenes have the power to have the audience in tears. If there was any question at all over whether Kapa had the acting ability to forge a career outside of Riverdale this is the film that proves the world his is oyster.

I Still Believe may be an emotional viewing for some audience members, but it is well worth packing the box of tissues and sitting through. A thought-provoking and challenging story-line mixed with a young star putting in the performance of his young career makes I Still Believe one of the biggest surprises of  2020.

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