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“Believe Me” and “The Song”: Two Faith-Based Films Worth Watching


Riot Studios/City on a Hill Productions

David Ives - published on 09/26/14

These are real films, light but entertaining

“It’s a real film, Jack.” The character of Kurt says with a mixture of astonishment and admiration as he and director Jack Horner stare at the movie they are editing. Jack leans back in his chair with a palpable expression of relief. “It feels good, doesn’t it?” he sighs.

It’s a very small moment in a big sprawling film, but it’s one of my favorites from Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights.” Now, it may seem strange to open up a review of two new faith-based films by referencing a movie about the porn industry, but honestly, it’s exactly what came to mind after watching “Believe Me” and “The Song.” I have to imagine the makers of these two films felt much the same relief as the character of Jack Horner did once they saw the fruits of their efforts.

“Believe Me” and “The Song” are real films. Acting, directing, camera placement, editing, lighting, it’s all there. That shouldn’t be a big deal, but let’s face it, when you’re talking about films made by Christians for Christians, it kind of is.

The inescapable truth is that the faith-based film industry has not historically been known for its contribution to quality cinema. Oh, it’s churned out a lot of product, especially over the last decade since “The Passion of the Christ” made big bucks at the box office, but it hasn’t actually produced a lot of real films. If “Believe Me” and “The Song” are any indication, that might finally be changing.

“Believe Me” is the story of four fraternity brothers who, desperate for cash, hit upon the idea of founding a fake Christian charity and pocketing the donations. Impressed by the energy of their ministry, a faith-based production company approaches the foursome and invites them to tour nationally with an up-and-coming contemporary Christian artist. It isn’t long before the dough starts to roll in. The problem is, so do the pangs of conscience.

“Believe Me” starts off as a comedy, and for anyone who has ever spent some time in a modern Evangelical worship space (yeah, I’m talking about those places where they don’t use the word church too often), there’s a lot of humor to be found in the movie. The filmmakers take great joy in skewering some of the more artificial elements found in contemporary Protestant worship.

Most of the laughs come as the frat boys take turns in giving each other presentations on how to appear more Christian. They demonstrate the four postures of prayer (the gecko, the casual five, the straight jacket and, my favorite, the Shawshank). They study how to make their Bibles appear properly worn and well-read (Protestants can’t function without a highlighter). They teach each other the list of words guaranteed to make a spoken prayer a success. (Only one or two actually appear in the Our Father, so Jesus dropped the ball there, I guess.) And they learn the most important lesson of all: how to swear without using swear words, because Protestants love that kind of stuff.

The most fun comes at the expense of Gabriel (Zachary Knighton), the contemporary Christian singer who only knows one song, an innocuous ditty that simply repeats the name of Jesus over and over again (be sure to check out the screen on stage for the lyrics). His part is a pretty dead-on parody of Sunday morning rock ‘n’ roll praise leaders.

I suppose I could be a jerk and point out that most of what “Believe Me” lampoons isn’t to be found in the Catholic Church because she wisely chose to keep her form of worship basically the same over the past two millennia. But until we get rid of those last few puppet masses still floating around out there, I should probably avoid casting that stone.

“Believe Me” does eventually start to take a serious turn, and fortunately, everyone is up to the task. The four guys who play the leads (Alan Powell, Miles Fisher, Max Adler, and Sinqua Walls) all have movie and TV credits to their names and handle their parts well. Sure, they’re all a bit old to be playing college kids, but most Hollywood movies have fraternities with an average age of 30, so it’s fine.

To round out its running time, the movie throws in a dash of romance and a dab of redemption. All in all, “Believe Me” is a pleasant enough movie to spend an hour and a half with.

“The Song” is a little more somber. Using the biblical writings of Solomon as a template, “The Song” follows the rise and fall of a young singer-songwriter as he faces temptation on the road. Jed King (Alan Powell) is the son of a famous country singer who can’t quite seem to find his own voice. But when he meets and marries Rose (Ali Faulkner), Jed finally finds the muse he was missing.

The song Jed writes for Rose on the morning following their wedding becomes an instant hit and propels Jed into the national spotlight. Success follows success, but the separation required by constant touring begins to take a toll on Jed and Rose’s marriage. And then Jed gets a new opening act in the form of wild-child Shelby Bale (Caitlin Nicol-Thomas) and it’s all sex and drugs from there. Implied sex and drugs, that is. We’re talking about a faith-based film, after all.

The fallen star is one of the oldest cinematic tropes out there, but “The Song” at least tries to give the formula a Christian twist. Rather than his drug habit bringing about his downfall, it’s Jed’s adultery that does him in. Jed sees his lyrics as a gift from God, so the more he moves away from his beliefs, the harder it is for him to perform. Still, even with the spiritual impotence angle, it’s a pretty familiar story arc, which the script barely deviates from.

Faulkner as the put-upon Rose suffers the most from the writing. She’s a fine actress, but her character is penned as a sort of Christian Mary Sue. For all you non-sci-fi fans out there who might not recognize the term, a Mary Sue is an idealized female character who embodies the fantasies of her author. Rose is just a wee bit too perfect throughout the film, and she only gets to cut loose once in a scene following the revelation of her husband’s adultery. She doesn’t use any swear words, though, because, you know, she’s Protestant.

Despite the small problems with the script, however, all of the actors give it their best. Powell and Nicol-Thomas are both real life musicians, so they bring some authority to their musical performances. If you’re a fan of Mumford & Sons style of indie-folk, you’ll appreciate the tunes on display. Powell even grows quite an impressive hipster-beard during the second act to go along with his banjo playing. In fact, his facial hair becomes so prominent by the end of the film that they probably should have given it a name and an acting credit.

In the end, “The Song” travels well-worn territory, but the actors are engaging enough to make the trip bearable. Plus, the use of a voiceover intoning readings from Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs, while sort of spelling things out to the viewer, is surprisingly effective and gives the film a bit of gravitas. As far as romantic dramas go, there have been a lot worse than “The Song” to come out this year.

Of course, the inevitable question that comes up when talking about these sort of faith-based films is will they cross over and appeal to a non-Christian audience? In their favor, neither “Believe Me” nor “The Song” is overly preachy. It looks like Evangelical filmmakers are finally learning to leave the sermons for Sunday morning and let the stories carry their message. Even “The Song’s” constant Bible quoting never identifies it as such. Folks who have never delved into the middle sections of Scripture may not know who Jed is citing.

Even so, both films are probably still a little bit too “inside baseball” for the non-Christian viewer. Most of the humor in “Believe Me” comes from a loving familiarity with modern Protestant worship, and viewers with no faith experience of their own may not understand why Jed’s loss of his in “The Song” affects him so terribly.

Chances are, neither “Believe Me” or “The Song” are likely to find audiences outside of Christian circles. But if the stray non-believer does happen to wander into a showing, they might just be pleasantly surprised. Neither movie packs the emotional or spiritual wallop of something like the recent "Calvary," but as light entertainment they’re perfectly fine. And they’re real films. After so many years of being unable to make that claim about most faith-based efforts, it feels good to finally be able to say that.

In a world he didn’t create, in a time he didn’t choose, one man looks for signs of God in the world by… watching movies. When he’s not reviewing new releases for Aleteia,David Ivesspends his time exploring the intersection of low-budget/cult cinema and Catholicism at The B-Movie Catechism.

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