What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Believe Me is a cynical look at religious hucksterism, but failings in the script and direction make it difficult to determine exactly what position the film takes. To raise money for themselves, four graduating college seniors create a fake Christian charity, preaching God's love and purporting to raise money for clean water in Africa while bilking faithful folks who mean well. They're caught skimming thousands off the top, but no one is punished, no one goes to jail, and they actually profit from the Christian T-shirt concern they ran as a side business. So while there's little objectionable content (infrequent language includes "a--hole," and there's some drinking, including once to excess and the possibility of underage drinking), since there's also no clear message or worthwhile takeaway, this isn't a great fit for younger viewers.
What's the story?
Pierce (Miles Fisher) invites his college fraternity brother, Sam (Alex Russell), to church services as a way to meet girls. Both of them are charismatic, fast-talking con men who have little interest in doing the right thing. They're also engaged in hazing fraternity pledges, and Sam presses one boy to lie to school investigators about the severity of the hazing practices. "Sometimes," he explains, "people DO want to be lied to." However clunky, this exchange raises the film's central theme and establishes the shakiness of Sam and his friends' morals. And it turns out that lying is the least of their transgressions. Sam and friends put on a fake Christian charity fundraiser to come up with his tuition, plus a little extra for the rest of the crew. Their energetic and successful event attracts the attention of Ken (Christopher McDonald), a preacher-promoter who hires them to preach and fundraise for his cause. When Sam and company are caught skimming off the top, Ken doesn't send them to jail, because he fears the scandal will damage his ministry. Instead, he forces them to keep their mouths shut and praise the Lord for his charity shows. He condones their dishonesty as long as it helps position his organization as the "number one ministry" in the country.
Is it any good?
Russell, Fisher (a ringer for William Devane), and co-star Sinqua Walls are all good actors, but their performances alone can't clarify what the script leaves murky. The 1960 film Elmer Gantry covers this subject -- religious hucksterism -- far more compellingly, raising the deeper question of whether all preaching might fall into the category of hucksterism insofar as it exploits people's dedication to faith (by definition, a strong belief in something without proof of its existence).
Such logical lapses may leave parents with a lot of explaining to do, far beyond the basic issues of morality and selfishness. The film even ends mid-sentence, which is the perfect metaphor for an idea that doesn't know how to resolve itself.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about Believe Me's message. Is there a clear take-away? Do you think the characters should have faced more consequences for their actions?
Is it OK to lie if you're telling people what you think they want to hear?
Is it more important to give people hope or to tell them the truth? Is it possible to do both?