A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Believe is a faith-based Christmas tale about a down-on-his-luck businessman who finds both his soul and his heart. Christian messages are delivered directly and frequently. The story emphasizes the power of faith, as well the importance of selflessness, the value of hard work, and redemption through unconditional love. Expect a few suspenseful, violent scenes, including a gang of thugs savagely beating the main character, a fire threatening a factory filled with people (one of whom is a young boy), and a woman being pushed down a flight of stairs and left unconscious in the fire's path. There's also a little bit of language ("crap") and a brief scene of drinking. The cast is diverse.
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What's the story?
In BELIEVE, Christmas is coming to small-town Virginia, and Matthew Peyton (Ryan O'Quinn) is in deep trouble. Not only is his longstanding family-owned business on the verge of bankruptcy -- he's forced to lay off his workers before the holiday -- but, because he's out of money, he'll have to cancel the town Christmas pageant, which has always been funded by the Peytons. Even Matthew's "friends" are up-in-arms. A few of the town's leaders beg him to sell the company so he can save his workforce and the pageant, but nothing shakes Matthew's resolve to keep his business afloat. Then he's attacked by a gang of ruffians in an isolated area just outside the city, who leave him severely hurt. He's discovered by young Clarence "CJ" Joseph (Isaac Ryan Brown), who takes Matthew to a run-down living space inhabited by the area's poor. There, CJ's mother, Sharon (Danielle Nicolet), a devoted single mom and volunteer caretaker of the other residents, tends to Matthew's wounds. It's a critical moment in Matthew's life. Always a workaholic driven by money, Matthew gets a glimpse at Sharon's more human values and CJ's abiding faith and returns to town with a renewed sense of purpose. Can redemption be far behind?
Is it any good?
An earnest approach and some bright performances almost rescue this routine, predictable holiday drama, but its one-dimensional characters and silly plot turns can't be overlooked. Hoping to touch the heart in the same way It's a Wonderful Life has for generations (it can't be a coincidence that the "angel" at the center of Believe is named "Clarence"), Believe falls well short of its goals.
On the plus side, kids are likely to fall in love with CJ; there's no denying Brown's talent, warmth, and appeal. On the other hand, the movie's simplistic, faith-based messages appear to dictate the storyline rather than emerge from it organically. Bottom line? It's OK for holiday viewing, as long as you're ready for the elements of suspense and violence.
Talk to your kids about ...
CJ is a pivotal character in this story. How does he demonstrate optimism and unselfishness? Why are these important character strengths?
Do movies like this one help you find answers to your own questions about life/faith, or do you like simply watching a good story? Which holiday movies have had the most impact on you?
Has anyone other than someone in your immediate family had a big influence on your life? What did you learn from him or her?
How would you describe Believe's take on the Christmas holiday? Did you know how dependent our culture is on the economics of the holiday season? How does your family deal with the contrast between that side of things and the more spiritual attitude toward the holiday?
- In theaters: December 2, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: April 11, 2017
- Cast: Ryan O'Quinn, Isaac Ryan Brown, Shawnee Smith
- Director: Billy Dickson
- Studio: Freestyle Releasing
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, Holidays, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 117 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some violence, thematic elements, and brief mild language
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