'I'm Not Ashamed': Film Review
The life of Rachel Scott, a victim of the shooters at Columbine High School, is turned into a big-screen pep talk for struggling Christian teens.
An ungenerous way to describe I'm Not Ashamed, a painfully earnest TV-grade movie about Columbine High School victim Rachel Scott, is that it has turned one of the most horrific events in American history into a mere plot device, using it to add prefabricated gravitas to an otherwise ordinary story of a teen's struggle to live according to her Christian beliefs.
Many won't see it that way: Scott's life and tragic death (and the journal she left behind) were the springboard for an anti-violence nonprofit that has given school presentations to tens of millions of students, and presumably many of those have embraced the comparisons made between Scott and Anne Frank. Many Christians yearning for faith-based entertainment will be moved by this film, and that crowd may well ensure a profit for the production. But more picky viewers will admit that even taken solely as an exploration of the trials of being a Christian teen, it's awfully weak tea as a movie, instantly disposable if not for the tragic backdrop. (Moviegoers who want a more affecting film about campus shootings this month should look instead to Keith Maitland's Tower.)
Played by Masey McLain, Rachel wavers between assertive chipperness about the impact she can have on others and a dark fear that she'll never quite fit in. At the start, she sits with friends lamenting "I just want a real boyfriend." Boys just don't think of her that way, it seems, which is odd, because she's the prettiest one in her popular-girl pack, as well as the most approachable.
Trying to make herself boy-worthy, Rachel sneaks out of the house, goes to parties, smokes and drinks. (Unlike so many contemporary movies that go out of their way to keep tobacco products offscreen, Ashamed has more conspicuous teen smoking than a Grease production underwritten by Philip Morris.) She gets caught at one point, and is sent to spend the summer with devout relatives in Louisiana; there, she has the first of multiple revivals of faith.
When she returns, Rachel tries to be more involved with a church youth group, where she winds up noticing a homeless young man (Ben Davies's Nathan), and essentially stalks him until he accepts her help. He becomes her surrogate big brother, embracing church in a big way. He should probably become her boyfriend as well, but Rachel's hung up on a theater bro named Alex. The film devotes a lot of energy to her budding maybe/maybe-not romance with Alex, who is giving her acting lessons with an eye to putting her in his upcoming school play.
If Rachel was, in fact, the kind of idealist the movie depicts, she probably would not object to her ensuing trials — brief spasms of loneliness; concerns that "having a walk with God is hard" in an unreligious world — being dramatized for the sake of others in her shoes. But as the movie cuts from time to time to its versions of the two teens who tried to kill hundreds of their classmates on April 20, 1999, the rest of us may have qualms, about both the shallowness of its depiction of mass shooters and about the use of this event to turn Rachel into a Christian martyr. A 2000 book about her used that word in its title, and the movie runs with the idea, implying that Scott's murder was an act of religious persecution — which would come as news to the victims of this indiscriminate act of hatred, who simply happened to be at the wrong school on the wrong day.
Production companies: Visible Pictures, All Entertainment
Distributor: Pure Flix Entertainment
Cast: Masey McLain, Ben Davies, Cameron McKendry, Terri Minton, Victoria Staley, Taylor Kalupa, Emma Elle Roberts, Sadie Robertson, David Errigo Jr., Cory Chapman, Mark Daugherty
Director: Brian Baugh
Screenwriters: Bodie Thoene, Philipa A. Booyens, Robin Hanley, Kari Redmond
Producers: Brad Allen, Nise Davies, Chuck Howard, Martin Michael
Executive producer: Benny Proffitt
Director of photography: John Matysiak
Production designer: Christian Snell
Costume designer: Vanessa Gonzalez
Editor: Chris Witt
Composer: Tim Williams
Casting director: Nise Davies
PG-13, 112 minutes