Do You Believe?

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By: Addison Wylie

I believe the saying goes: everybody gets one.  Screenwriters Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon got theirs last year with the highly successful faith-based picture God’s Not Dead.  I was indifferent towards the film featuring an Atheist professor and his devout student debating God’s existence because I genuinely felt the screenwriters didn’t know any better.  I even shrugged off the tasteless ending where the film flips the ultimate bird towards non-believers.

A year later, I’m watching Konzelman and Solomon’s latest Evangelistic love letter Do You Believe?, and I’m finding it to be a hard pill to swallow.  It’s time to have a serious talk.

Do You Believe?, however, is directed by Jonathan M. Gunn – a third of a filmmaking team who made the charming docu-rom-com My Date with Drew back in 2004.  Since then, Gunn has made a couple of other movies;  Like Dandelion Dust is another good flick of his that shows his capabilities with character-driven dramas.  I’m puzzled over what would compel him to work with material this heavy-handed.  Perhaps he was seduced by the plethora of different characters in Crash or Magnolia influenced scenarios, and didn’t pay too much attention to the edgeless, hokey dialogue.

If you’ve been following my writing, you may notice I go out of my way to review faith-based films – I’m oddly fascinated by them.  It’s possible for filmmakers to succeed within this sub-genre.  I stand behind my optimism for Heaven Is for Real and this year’s War Room harmlessly passed the time.  Do You Believe? shows audiences the worst example of how these films can swing in discouraging ways.

Quite simply, Konzelman and Solomon need to open up their writing so it isn’t so black-and-white.  In Do You Believe?, you either have faith in the power of God, or you’re broken or cynical.  There’s no in-between or evidence that someone can survive using different beliefs.  There’s passion in the duo’s screenwriting, but their field of view is extremely narrow.  We can’t help but feel like the film is being used as a tool for recruitment.  Also, skimming across a variety of people with harsh problems and needs makes the script even more feeble.

Do You Believe? is somewhat helped by its experienced cast (including Sean Astin, Mira Sorvino, Lee Majors, and Alexa PenaVega), but the production constantly calls on them to switch on the tears and slip into melodrama mode – it looks as if those were the only directions given to Cybill Shepard.  Delroy Lindo is especially wasted as a mumbling man who is so faithful, he drags a big cross everywhere he goes.

I will mention how refreshing it was to see Joseph Julian Soria given a proper, sensitive role rather than the generic thug he’s usually typecast as.  Him and PenaVega have a nice relationship.  Their romance expands at a rapid rate, but their chemistry is believable.  If the excessively depressed Do You Believe? wasn’t so busy being one-sided, the filmmakers would have noticed that they were sitting on real potential all along.


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