An Anti-Faith Film That Actually Affirms Genuine Faith?
Director: WILL BAKKE/2014
Believe Me is the story about 4 college seniors who decide to create a fake charity in order to prey upon gullible Christian audiences at “faith conferences” to give money to assuage their consciences, allowing these college con-artists to raise money for their tuition needs and their desired lifestyle. When Sam (Alex Russell-Chronicle, The Host) learns that he must make up over $9,000 for his tuition before he can apply for law school, he is desperate for money.
In that desperation, he agrees to go to church with his frat brother Pierce (Miles Fisher-J. Edgar, Final Destination 5), who is only going to hit on a girl who has invited him. As they watch the service unfold, a woman raising funds for her missionary effort to Africa to help the less fortunate informs them that she has raised over $16,000 of her needed $20,000 in just over a week. Seeing faith audiences as gullible simpletons who are ready to turn over dollars upon dollars to satisfy their desire to “do something” regardless of the cause, they invent a charity called “Get WELLS soon” to raise money for water wells in Africa. They, along with their friends Tyler (Sinqua Walls) and Baker (Max Adler) begin hosting rallies on campus to raise awareness and funds and are soon contacted by Ken (Christopher McDonald-Happy Gilmore). Ken heads up the “Number 2 ministry in the nation” and invites them to speak, preach, and share about “Get WELLS Soon” on a 27 city tour with an estimated haul of $250,000.
Believe Me is a corny premise, but it contains a very subversive message for the church and the larger communities of faith. Accurate in its depiction of the backstage culture of Christian Conferences (I personally have first hand knowledge from my experiences performing drama and music at such events), Believe Me holds a mirror to the faith community that they may not want to see. Worship “artists” are seen as outdated 90’s rock stars whose “christianese” lingo and endless repetition in worship songs renders the experience they seek to create as shallow. Ken, as the visionary behind the conference is a dedicated and authentic man, who has succumbed to the pressure to be the “number 1 ministry in the country”, even if it means making compromises that are just as guilty as the fraud being perpetrated by Sam and his friends.
Johanna Braddy (Easy A, Paranormal Activity 3) plays Callie, an authentic, faith-driven girl who assists Ken in running the conference. Having served on the mission field in Africa, she has a special heart for the charity Sam claims to oversee. At first, Sam is seeking to pull one over on her as she is the one who could actually reveal their deception.
While it looks like this film is very anti-faith, we are given a twist that Christian filmmakers would be wise to consider, as so many “Christian” films seem to miss it. (For a fantastic ZekeFilm article on why Christian filmmaking tends to fall short that was picked up by the Gospel Coalition magazine click here) That twist is that the goal of a faith based film should not be to convert others, but to present authentic truth that compels them to seek out truth.
Through Callie’s genuine, and perceived naive nature, Sam begins to be convicted by the fraud he is perpetrating. It’s not so much that he is buying in to faith per se, but he is drawn to the authentic conviction Callie has to pursue what she sees as the ultimate truth and how that should determine one’s actions. Its not enough to believe something. You have to live it out. Sam understands through her convictions just how much his life is lacking any.
Christian films often miss this because the lead character is often one trying to “preach” a certain message to the audience in the theater. In Believe Me, while the corporate structure of the Christian subculture is seen as gullible and shallow, its depictions of people of faith are not. It actually affirms the notion of being real and genuine in one’s faith. Christians are made to actually be seen as three dimensional people with strong convictions and honest struggles in their faith. They are not reduced to caricatures in their authenticity. The notion of “preaching the gospel, and if necessary use words” by Saint Francis of Assisi is visually demonstrated in a powerful way.
Believe Me has its shortcomings, but it powerfully presents an anti-faith film that is refreshingly pro-faith much like Steve Martin’s film Leap of Faith was. In that film, the traveling evangelical preacher was the target of ridicule. But when the con-man encountered the simple, but genuine, faith of one person who wasn’t looking to simply satisfy his desire to feel better, but to be transformed, it changed the false preacher. Believe Me deals with this same issue and presents a compelling case of how lovingly standing your ground and holding to your convictions is more powerful than compromise, theft, and hypocrisy.
So if you are a person of faith, Believe Me is a challenge to you, asking: Are you deeper than the public perception of the Christian church subculture? Are you a person of real conviction or a shallow consumer of self-edification through the perceived lens of “helping others”?
With a great cameo from Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation, The Kings of Summer), Believe Me is a story about fraud….though one with a big heart and worthy message.