What Céline Sciamma is interested in is "moments." There are many moments that linger in the mind long after the film has ended.
"I'm in Love with a Church Girl" is one high-gloss Christian movie. In the opening scene, prison guards stroll cell blocks gleaming with a godly light, piercing the glittering beams and thin blue ribbons of lens flare as they go. It's miraculous, the way timeless photographic technique and digital tools can now create downright confectionary images.
This movie stays beautiful as it follows the courtship between a wealthy drug dealer and a nice Christian girl. Jeff "Ja Rule" Atkins looks handsome as the dealer, Miles; Adrienne Bailon is adorable and personable as the girl, Vanessa. They meet at the home of a mutual friend and hit it off right away. Whether lounging in Miles' palatial mansion or going out to dinner at an upscale restaurant, Miles and Vanessa have a warm, flattering light to bask in.
The cinematographer of this film is named Keith J. Duggan. The production designer is Douglas Freeman. They do lovely work here.
Galley Molina wrote the film based on his inspiring life story. Like his protagonist, he once earned a great living trafficking drugs but eventually got out of the game thanks to the influence of a young woman whose love of the church became infectious. "It took a pretty woman to bring me around," Molina has said of his redemption. He wrote the story while in prison for drug charges—a result of an indictment carried out long after he had reformed. This film amounts to a demonstration of how to handle the burden of past sins when they come home to roost. It's also about surrendering to faith, letting God take charge of one's life.
As such, "I'm in Love with a Church Girl" is a primer for Christians and potential Christians. What it isn't, if you don't fall into either of those categories, is watchable. Under Steve Race's direction, the performances are uniformly poised, polite and mechanical. Every interaction either plods or just sits there as the actors recite Molina's straightforward dialogue like trade show spokesmodels for a Christian-themed hair product.
Moments of chemistry between Atkins and Bailon alleviate some of the dullness, and the way they hold certain gorgeously composed close-ups suggests amazing possibilities in better movies. There just isn't enough to justify a feature-length narrative.
Molina's story is worth telling. I suspect that, in this form, it will reach some of the at-risk youth who are clearly his target audience. But for myself and most folks expecting a movie, it is too transparent an infomercial for the church to move the mountain.
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