‘I’m Not Ashamed’
Director: Brian Baugh
Stars: Masey McLain, Ben Davies
2 (out of 5) Globes
“If only this was Columbine!” cracks a hepped-up teen playing a first-person shooter. “Maybe it could be,” replies his humorless friend. Mystifyingly, against all odds, “I’m Not Ashamed” — aka, “the evangelical Columbine movie” — is only that bad and that offensively reductive, oh, about 40 percent of the time. That’s a pretty good number for a faith-based film, and especially for a faith-based film that takes on one of America’s most shocking tragedies, repackaging it as a tale of inspiration and, of course, victimization. Its trailer promised cynical exploitation; the movie itself almost, kind of, sort of works as a character study, sometimes, if you’re feeling generous.
The reason “I’m Not Ashamed” exists at all is because of Rachel Scott, the massacre’s first victim, who just happened to be a born-again Christian. The details of her final moments are debatable. Nevertheless, her story has become a lightning rod for evangelicals, who’ve made a cottage industry powered by her decency, her compassion and, less inspiring, claims that she was murdered for her faith. (The killers seemed to hate everyone, and she was only first because she was sitting outside the school when a bomb they had planted failed to go off, necessitating a Plan B, but whatever.)
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“I’m Not Ashamed” is only the latest and most mainstream(ish) Rachel Scott product, tracing the last year of her life. It starts around the time she converted from a very, very, exceedingly mildly rambunctious high schooler — she sneaks out once for a pool party, and isn’t shown drinking or smoking — into a goody goody who tried to live a holy life. She’s not a zealot, though, and she’s not judgmental, save for the occasional slut-shaming of a loose friend with lots of piercings (Emma Elle Roberts). She’s also played by Masey McLain, a very likeable performer, as adept at goofball moments as at moody brooding. Rachel spends the film battling between the spiritual and secular worlds. She saves and befriends a homeless young man (Ben Davies), but can’t help falling for the wrong guy, who happens to be one of those evil playwrights you hear about.
As a portrait of someone grappling with life and fending off loneliness, even thoughts of suicide, “I’m Not Ashamed” is, more than expected, sometimes moving. Ignore the not always goodly intentions of the film, and it’s not a total stretch to compare it to the new Christine Chubbuck biopic “Christine.” (Though that’s still being charitable.) As a study of spiritual crisis, it shares a soupcon of DNA with Robert Bresson’s “Diary of a Country Priest,” trailing around someone who struggles on how best to apply her faith to a cruel and disinterested world.
Of course, it’s also a faith-based movie, i.e., crass, overly earnest, judgmental to everyone who’s not a Christian and poorly filmed. Its ignoble side pops up any time it cuts to Eric Harris (David Errigo Jr.) and Dylan Klebold (Cory Chapman). It’s 1999 all over again, and not just because characters say things like “fly girls” and “most def.” It brings back pinning the blame on the suspects: video games, evolution (Harris wears a shirt reading “Natural Selection” on their rampage) and, apparently, the fact that teachers educate students about Hitler, thus potentially activating the lurking psychos in bullied bullies. Harris and Klebold prey on Rachel in particular, turning Columbine into an assault on one, godly girl, the other 12 casualties reduced to a post-script dedication sandwiched in before a number you can text for Rachel Scott-themed messages. Still, at times “I’m Not Ashamed” is a rung, maybe even two, better than “It could have been so, so much worse.”
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge