The horrific 1999 shooting at Columbine High Schol sets a chilling backdrop for “I’m Not Ashamed,” the latest Christian faith-based film from Pure Flix. This biopic is no doubt for the devout, but this isn’t a completely unwatchable movie like so many others in the devotional genre.
The film centers around the real-life Rachel Joy Scott (Masey McLain), a very religious teenager who loves to write in her daily journal. The screenplay is based on Rachel’s actual musings from this diary and her own written words, adding an authentic, and at times chilling, glimpse into the final year of a young girl’s life. I’m sure there were certain liberties taken with the true story (some things are just too rosy and perfect), but the sentiment remains the same. There are the normal high school parties and cliques and boy crushes, but it’s hard to view any of those moments with delight because we all know how her story tragically ends.
McLain spends most of the movie doing what looks like a shoddy Katie Holmes impression, but she’s not the worst actress in the world. She’s capable enough for this material (newsflash: this isn’t high art) and she carries the movie, which was probably better suited for a DVD rather than a theatrical release, with ease. There’s not much talent on display in the supporting cast either, with some seriously laughable performances and stiff line delivery from most of the cast in the early scenes (I triple dog dare you not to laugh out loud at the awful performance from Sadie Robertson, granddaughter of Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” fame).
As expected, this film is far too preachy to be fully enjoyed by those who aren’t already inclined or encouraged by their church group to buy a ticket. Get ready for scene after scene of people attempting to pray away their problems, life-affirming Bible study, the nervous fondling of crucifix necklaces, and plenty of discussions and cheerful platitudes about letting “his light shine through” you. I found all of this nearly laughable and more than a little ridiculous, but I have to hand it to the filmmakers here because there’s one area in which they truly stand out from the other faith-based dreck: the film doesn’t paint nonbelievers in a bad light.
The film is well done in the sense that it doesn’t try to classify skeptics, agnostics and atheists as some sort of evil spawn of Satan. There are plenty of times when our young heroine reminds her friends that she’s “not that type of Christian” who just tries to “convert” everyone. I can appreciate that kind of message. If other hard line faith-based films would take this approach, they would be much easier to swallow among the rest of the world.
Of course, Rachel is portrayed as a type of superhero for Jesus who uses her spirituality to save plenty of folks (including a homeless teen), but this is the sort of validation the core religious audience for this type of film wants to see. I have no issue with this, but I wish devout worshipers would understand and accept that one doesn’t need a religion or a god to “do good” and spread happiness in the world. But hey, you know, baby steps.
This is not to say that there aren’t some troubling portrayals of pro-censorship attitudes on display, most in relation to the school shooters, Dylan Klebold (Cory Chapman) and Eric Harris (David Errigo Jr.). There’s no disputing that these two were extremely troubled kids, but here they are portrayed as cartoonish villains, two over the top outsiders who are drawn into a world of violence because they like to read history books about Hilter and they spend their afternoons playing first-person shooter video games. At times, the movie makes Rachel’s imminent death feel very commercialized, and it’s more than a little off putting. In fact, much of the film feels like one big advertisement for the Christian religion.
The end is stirring and the message, when stripped of the religious aspects, is one that can be universally appreciated. Yes, it’s more than a tad exploitative, but there are a few sincere, touching moments leading up to Rachel’s graphic on-screen murder. It’s hard not to care about a kindhearted girl who was just trying to make the world a better place.
Matt was unavailable for review.