Miles (Jeff "Ja Rule" Atkins) Montego has everything a human being could possibly want.
Mansions. Money. Cars. Good Looks. Women.
Though Miles was brought up in the church by his mother (Marjorie Mann), the temptation of reaching out for a better life took him another direction as he became a king of the streets as a high-level drug trafficker. While he's trying to move away from the life, doing so is not exactly easy when you don't let go of the excitement, the friends, the money, and the esteem.
Then, he meets Vanessa (Adrienne Bailon).
Vanessa is unlike any other woman Miles has met. For one, Vanessa is a "church girl" in every sense of the word.
Is it possible for two people from such vastly different worlds to truly love one another?
Perhaps just as importantly, is it possible to realistically create a film that portrays the reality of temptation while not exploiting it for the sake of a few box-office bucks?
Yes. And yes.
For Miles, it means become increasingly conflicted with the life he's known and that has given him everything he ever wanted while realizing that it's also a life that jeopardizes his relationship with Vanessa.
For Vanessa, it means reconciling her faith in God with her growing love for Miles even while struggling with the choices he has made and, on some level, continues to make.
Opening in nationwide release on October 18th from Reverence Gospel Media (RGM), I'm in Love With a Church Girl takes two vastly different worlds and two vastly different people and finds a way to peacefully co-exist within them without sugar-coating the truth nor compromising the harsh realities of the journeys that are unfolding while somehow managing to present it all in a family friendly, PG-rated way.
While some will giggle at such a thought, the truth is that many film critics and moviegoers simply can't be pleased when it comes to faith-based cinema. Some will scoff at the film's lack of gritty realism while portraying the violent world of drug trafficking, while others will dismiss the film for its kaleidoscope lensed view of faith's impact on life's journey.
So be it.
I'm In Love With a Church Girl may not necessarily please everyone, but fans of faith-based cinema will have a deep appreciation for Galley Alexander Molina's ability to pen a film that honestly looks at the very real temptations that are taking our young people away from the church while never losing site of its primary mission of living into its faith. The film is based upon Molina's own story, though he tells it with such refreshing honesty and lack of pretension that it may not feel like it. Molina ran an infamous drug ring in Oakland before meeting, you guessed it, a "church girl" and making a decision to transform his life. Before the transformation could be fully realized, Molina was arrested and imprisoned. While in prison, he wrote a screenplay without any training whatsoever. Upon his release and with the help of his "church girl," Molina's transformation took hold and today he runs the nation's most successful Gospel label alongside Grammy winning Christian artist Israel Houghton and both he and Houghton serve as worship pastors at two of the nation's largest churches. In working with director Steve Race on this film, Molina has found the perfect partner to create a heartfelt and inspirational film grounded deeply within real life.
There's a reason that I found myself in tears as the closing credits rolled by for I'm in Love With a Church Girl. It wasn't about kaleidoscope visions or rose-tinted resolution. It was about my own absolute belief in the radical truth that lies at the core of the film and has certainly guided my own life - It's never too late.
It's never too late to surrender.
It's never too late for hope.
It's never too late for love instead of hate, peace instead of violence, and for one who has made bad choice after bad choice to suddenly begin making good choices.
It doesn't mean that we don't sometimes have consequences for our actions, but I'm in Love With a Church Girl truly testifies that it's never too late to change.
Jeff Atkins, known as rapper Ja Rule to most folks, gives a convincing performance as a young man who is neither good nor bad but who has simply made bad choices based upon bad information and influences that are many of the same influences our young people deal with every day of their lives. Atkins thankfully avoids any hint of caricature in his performance and embodies Miles as a young man whose journey feels genuine and who, even amidst actions that many would question, we sympathize with thanks to Atkins' even-keeled performance.
Adrienne Bailon, familiar from her time with former girl groups 3LW and The Cheetah Girls, gives her most complex and satisfying performance to date as "church girl" Vanessa. Bailon realistically portrays Vanessa as someone who is, in her humanness, a bit awed by Miles's material wealth yet also as a young woman who steadfastly refuses to compromise her faith. It's a difficult performance that resonates as realistic thanks to Bailon's warmth and sincerity.
If you have any doubt about the credibility of I'm In Love With a Church Girl within the faith community, one need only look at the supporting players involved with the film including popular Christian recording artist TobyMac in a secondary role as a confidante of Miles along with familiar Hollywood names like Vincent Pastore, Stephen Baldwin, and Michael Madsen among others. Molina himself makes an appearance in the film as, not surprisingly, a worship pastor who serves up a different view of what it means to be a Christian for Miles.
I'm in Love With a Church Girl features a stand-out original score from Bruce Fowler along with Keith J. Duggan's balanced yet warm lensing. In keeping with the Reverence Gospel Media vision of creating quality films with an inspirational message, I'm in Love With a Church Girl's tech credits are solid across the board.
I'm in Love With a Church Girl opens nationwide in right about 500 theaters so far on October 18th, including my home market of Indianapolis, and should without question be immensely popular among faith-based moviegoers and those moviegoers simply seeking an inspirational message presented with honesty, intelligence, heart and faith.
For more information on the film, be sure to visit its website linked to in the credits on the left and make plans to check out the film when it arrives in your town.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic