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‘I Still Believe’ coaxes tears with sweetness, sincerity

‘Riverdale’ star KJ Apa and Britt Robertson make a sparkling couple in the faith-based, real-life love story.

The romance of Jeremy (KJ Apa) and Melissa (Britt Robertson) runs into a challenge in “I Still Believe.”
Lionsgate

If you know the story of the Christian music star Jeremy Camp and his wife Melissa, you won’t be surprised by anything that transpires in “I Still Believe,” a sweet and lovely tearjerker.

Even if you don’t know their story, you know this movie. We’ve seen it many a time, from “Love Story” to “A Walk to Remember” to “The Fault in Our Stars” to “Midnight Sun.”

Two young people are in love. One gets sick or is already sick. Very sick. We get to know and like this couple, and we’re rooting for them, and sometimes it’s a little difficult to see the screen because of all that mist in our eyes.

Directed by the sibling team of Andrew and Jon Erwin and adapted from Camp’s autobiography of the same name, “I Still Believe” is a faith-based love story with sparkling performances by KJ Apa (Archie on the “Riverdale” series) as Jeremy and Britt Robertson as Melissa, who meet at California’s Calvary Chapel Bible College in 1999 and make an instant connection — first becoming friends, then something much more.

We meet Jeremy on the day he’s getting ready to leave for college. He lives with his parents (Gary Sinise and the country star Shania Twain) and his younger siblings in Lafayette, Indiana. As Collective Soul’s “Run” plays on the soundtrack, Jeremy makes his way west, with his whole life in front of him.

“I Still Believe” has an appropriately sunny look as Jeremy meets his musical hero, Jean-Luc La Joie (Nathan Parsons), a cool-guy Christian singer and alum of the bible college who takes Jeremy under his wing and gives him advice about songwriting and becomes friends with Roberton’s Melissa. There’s a little bit of a romantic triangle involving Jean-Luc, Jeremy and Melissa, but it’s just about the most wholesome romantic triangle in movie history. Nobody’s getting beyond first base (at least onscreen) in this story, and there’s no swearing or punching or any kind of rough stuff.

This is the kind of movie where you know there’s a falling-in-love musical montage coming, and it’s not a surprise when Melissa takes Jeremy to her special place — a planetarium where the “sky” lights up with magical stars.

Melissa points to a brightly shining cluster and explains to Jeremy, “It’s called Andromeda … it’s a galaxy … with one trillion stars, all shining together. That, my new friend, is the definition of wonder. God is so infinitely vast, and this is his painting.”

Corny? Absolutely. Sincere and spiritual? Yes.

Jeremy and Melissa are still finding their way romantically when Melissa is struck with Stage 3C cancer. Through all surgeries and the chemo, through the pain, through the magical moment when Jeremy and Melissa get married on the beach to the sounds of Haley Reinhart’s version of “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” through the ultimate setback, they’re together.

We don’t see a lot of Gary Sinise and Shania Twain as Jeremy’s parents, but Sinise has one showcase, devastatingly emotional, father-and-son scene late in the film, and it’s a reminder he’s one of our finest actors. Britt Robertson infuses Melissa with such warmth and strength and beauty in every sense of the word, it’s easy to understand how Jeremy would instantly fall for her.

KJ Apa has a kind of young, less dangerous-looking Billy Crudup vibe. Apa reportedly did his own singing and playing, and he does a terrific job performing some of Camp’s real-life compositions, including the title track, his tribute to his beloved Melissa.

Theirs was a love story right out of a song — and deserving of a movie.