I'm Not Ashamed Will Feel Familiar to Any Christian Youth Grouper
- Shawn McEvoy Managing Editor, Crosswalk.com
- 2016 22 Oct
Neither a pugnacious retelling of the Columbine massacre, nor a cheesy canonization of its main character, Pure Flix's I'm Not Ashamed is more the general story of The American Christian High Schooler, given urgency, poignancy and inspiration through its setting in a national tragedy. 4 out of 5.
Rachel Joy Scott (Masey McClain) is like so many high school students raised in church. When she was a kid she prayed earnestly for family needs and doodled about the difference her hands would make in the world. When she was older, she cared more about peer acceptance and just being noticed by at least one boy than "the church thing." After a summer with religious relatives (Sadie & Korie Robertson) in Louisiana, she returns to school on fire for Jesus, at least when she's in Christian circles or finally saying yes to that inner nudge to help the homeless. But she still doesn't want the students of Columbine high school to know just how important her faith is. It's only once Rachel experiences betrayal that she realizes the damage done by having betrayed her true self. Once she does, she shines with the light of bold confidence in Christ... but how long will she burn? Because while Rachel's story is familiar, it is also uniquely shadowed by the spectre of knowing this is Littleton, Colorado, 1999, and the Columbine killings loom right around the corner...
The acting. Honestly, I go into most faith-based films expecting to cringe over at least half of the performances. McClain is perfect as Rachel, and Ben Davies delivers as formerly-homeless Nate, whose dramatic arc is almost as key to the film as Rachel's, and just as authentic. I would love to praise many of the other actors playing Rachel's peers and classmates, but several roles are uncredited, even on the movie's website. Director Brian Baugh wrote that he almost passed on this film because he feared Rachel was "some boring, sheltered, high school church girl who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was wrong." Indeed. Half the inspiration of I'm Not Ashamed is in the reality of the high school experience. Were I a youth minister, this film would be required viewing for the youth group as an illustration of what it looks like to mature past the temptation of youthful lusts into having a 'no matter what' faith. Baugh knows he is directing a tragedy - he even makes an oft-repeated quote from Shakespeare into a central theme - but he finds his silver lining in Rachel and the lives she touches, even those with whom she'd quarreled or disagreed.
It may entirely depend on what you bring with you to the experience. Or whether or not you want to believe that a 'hero of the faith' like Rachel can truly be a martyr if she wasn't always a saint. I'm Not Ashamed is a movie that starts slowly, and has some awkward moments, but grows on you by the end to where you hope to see more, and more, and more of Rachel and her classmates before their lives all change forever on that April day. For me, the everpresent gloom of knowing what's coming works artistically thanks to Baugh's direction and the knowledge that it's not how long Rachel spends on Earth that matters, but how bright she shines and how many lives she touches. I would not be surprised if not everyone views it that way, however. Likewise, if you've gotten used to sermons and altar calls in your Christian movies, you may be disappointed.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
I'm Not Ashamed is a movie about pain. Nobody in the film pretends to know why we have to go through it, but every character does - it spares no one, and in most cases, especially with Rachel, it helps them discover their identity. If only the story were fiction, placing such a story in a modern American high school would have been a brilliant idea. As it is, Baugh makes the most of the losing proposition of having to retell a horrifying tale, letting the knowledge of what's coming remain in the background as a tense note, one that Rachel seems to recognize (she can't envision her future; she says she feels like crying but doesn't know why). Baugh does not take a position on Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, painting them neither as pure evil (more deceived by it, such as in the form of reading the works of Hitler) nor sympathetic (their choices are their own, bullied or not). One student tells Rachel that her desire to just live for God while letting everyone else be who they are sounds "cool, but more Buddhist than Christian." The resonating note of the film is that every Christian must eventually decide whether shining the Light is worth any and all sacrifices - losing friends, reputations, relationships, even life. But it also shows great rewards, such as the value of forgiveness, purpose, and the confidence that comes in knowing one's identity in Christ. Rachel and her mom have the archetypical discussion of whether we truly bring light to our worldly friends, or they negatively influence us. This film succeeds at showing the difference.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material, teen drinking and smoking, disturbing violent content and some suggestive situations
- Language/Profanity: 'Sucks' is about as rough as the language gets here, which is a credit to Baugh and the writers; they give us a story that doesn't shy away from the rough edges or dialogue of high school while also not distracting us with unnecessary f-bombs, etc. A special needs student is referred to by unkind clasmates as a 'retard'.
- Sexuality/Nudity: No nudity, though some of Rachel's friends wear slightly revealing clothes, and her friend Celine appears to be sexually active with many partners. Rachel tells her Acting mentor and ("spiritual" but non-Christian) would-be boyfriend Alex she wants to take their relationship to 'the next level,' which he interprets as referring to sex, which leads to an uncomfortable scene in someone's laundry room. After Rachel rebuffs Alex, she finds him making out with her friend Madison.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: I feared it would be worse, as none of us really wants to relive something as horrifying as Columbine. Eric and Dylan have a plan to collapse part of a school building with bombs. When they don't go off, they begin their assault with guns. Rachel and a boy she is talking to are their first victims. They speak to Rachel (the infamous "did it happen or not" conversation about whether she still believes in God) and deliver a kill shot to her head, but the screen goes black. News footage tells the rest of the story. In an earlier scene, a despondent Rachel, fearing she makes no difference, walks upon the edge of a tall building apparently considering jumping to her death. Bullying is a problem at Columbine.
Drugs/Alcohol: Teen parties are depicted realistically - vodka bottles, blue solo cups, and cigarettes are part of many gatherings. We meet some characters whose parents are 'drunks' or heroin abusers. Rachel sneaks out at night and returns home smelling of smoke and liquor. Rachel is not a smoker but she likes to congregate in a campus alcove with students who do.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Christian movie critics such as myself like to talk about how we should make more movies non-Christians would want to see. In the case of I'm Not Ashamed, however, I find absolutely zero fault in this being something of a 'preach to the choir' kind of experience. It is not exclusive, but just happens to be a story many Christians can relate to of trying to find our place in the world, even simply among our peers. Anyone who has been raised in church, come through a youth group, or made 'rededications' to the Lord will find something familiar in Rachel's story.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: In terms of age, those not yet in high school are best left at home. In terms of plot, those who aren't inspired without a happily-ever-after for the protagonist, or who have lived through gun-related violence, may want to find another film. In terms of themes, most atheists and others with no interest in the faith journeys of young people will no doubt stay away. Which is unfortunate, because claims that the movie is "offensive," or "blames Columbine on Darwin" (it would be more accurate to say it places some blame on Hitler's interpretation of evolutionary theory), or is without value because of lingering questions about the exactness of Eric and Rachel's final words simply don't ring true. The movie made its point about Rachel Joy Scott and spoke to its audience long before that climactic scene ever occurred.
I'm Not Ashamed, directed by Brian Baugh, opened in theaters October 21, 2016; available for home viewing January 24, 2017. It runs 112 minutes and stars Masey McClain, Ben Davies, Terri Minton, Sadie Robertson, Korie Robertson, Jaci Velasquez, Emma Elle Roberts, Cameron McKendry and Matthew Schuler. Watch the trailer for I'm Not Ashamed here.
Shawn McEvoy is the Managing Editor for Crosswalk.com and the co-host of CrosswalkMovies.com's Video Movie Reviews.
Publication date: October 22, 2016