(M) Starring Alex Russell, Miles Fisher and Christopher McDonald
Believe Me is the first of its kind for director William Bakke. Usually sticking to documentaries (previous works include Beware of Christians and One Nation Under God), Bakke has used his familiar theme of Christianity as a satirical backdrop for a story about truth and the power of platforms. Believe Me firmly stays on the line of satire rather than mockery, as Bakke highlights the trivial and humorous lives of American evangelical Christians from an outsider’s viewpoint.
Three weeks before graduation, Sam (Alex Russell) discovers his college scholarship has run out early. Intent on not taking time off, Sam enlists the help of his housemates to make back the money quick – by starting a bogus charity called ‘Get Wells Soon’ and scamming the most gullible people they can think of… evangelical Christians. After seeing what a church can make in a day of donations, Sam and his friends Baker (Max Adler), Tyler (Sinqua Walls) and Pierce (Miles Fisher) quickly organise a donation event for their charity in Africa. They ask attendees to “give in a way that reflects their faith”.
Sam’s charisma and confidence on stage catches the eye of Ken (Christopher McDonald), the head of an evangelical Christian tour company called Cross Country. Ken offers the team an opportunity to tour around the USA for three months, in order to make close to $1 million for their charity. The God Squad — as they’re dubbed by their flocking Christian fans — accept his offer without question. This means they’ve got to learn to think, act and even pray like their now ‘fellow’ Christians… that is, if they want to graduate college (and not get caught for fraud, spending the rest of their lives in jail).
Whether it is Christianity, Hinduism, or even just a work seminar, those on the stage have an incredibly important power. This power can lead to greatness or chaos, depending on who wields it. Bakke tries to highlight this throughout the film – with the charismatic leadership of Sam, and the innocent young Christian audience he is manipulating. Throughout Believe Me, Sam’s Christian beliefs are an act, but what is not is his presence and confidence while spouting his lies to thousands of followers. With this confidence, he can influence people beyond all belief. As co-conspirator Tyler explains to Sam, “they only believe it because you’re up there telling them to believe it.” This, I believe, is the intrinsic message Bakke is trying to highlight to his audience – that such power and influence can be extremely dangerous (whether it is religious or not).
Although Believe Me gently mocks the gullible nature of American evangelical Christian groups, it doesn’t aim to belittle. Instead, the film highlights our societal tendency to put people on pedestals. People who, a lot of the time, don’t deserve to be there. This issue is hardly specific to evangelical Christians, which is why Bakke has been adamant that his aim was for audiences not to think that only Christians would get something out of Believe Me.
Mercifully, Christian values are not aggressively rammed down our throats by Believe Me. Thanks to Bakke’s subtle approach, we can develop our own feelings (at our own pace) about the messages being projected. The film doesn’t preach either, which I think is an impressive accomplishment and should allow it to reach a whole new audience.
The only draw-back is that sometimes Bakke can’t seem to decide whether Believe Me should be funny or serious. The film seems to be a comedy, but about halfway through, it decides to cut back on the humour that had been making it so relatable. This leaves it to frustratingly linger somewhere in between a comedy and a Christian values film, rather than really hitting hard as one or the other.
It’s a gamble for Bakke to have his first venture into feature films to be a ‘Christian-themed satire’, but Believe Me works relatively well (despite its few annoyances). The story is original, the cast are fantastic on screen and, in the end, you’re left feeling a little enlightened.
- What does the Bible say about stealing – Pslam 62:10
- What does the Bible say about lying – Proverbs 6: 16-19