The whole based-on-a-true-story thing is a tricky business. The art of story-telling is complicated, and real-life accounts do not always lend themselves to an easy narrative. They do not always follow the common three acts or plot arc that we as viewers are accustomed to. So it can become difficult to follow the what and why of happenings when dealing with the incredibly nuanced lives of real people. Where does Rachel’s story really begin and end? It’s just not that simple. But the film tries its best to give us a glimpse into the world of this tormented teen-turned-martyr. The end result is what I think is an overall good film with something relevant and poignant to say.
Making a difference
Rachel’s is a story about how one person can make a difference. She wrote in her journal, “When we put our lives in God’s hands, we can make a world of difference.” At times, this central theme gets muddled and mixed among many other motifs such as anti-bullying and the perils of peer pressure. But ultimately, the message comes through, and we truly see how Rachel made a difference in the lives of those around her.
The acting was solid. The emotions of authentic teenage drama are visceral, and the primary characters are fleshed out fairly well. Some of the secondary characters come off as hyperbolic and one-dimensional, and yet, the cliques and caricatures associated with high school do represent the sincere experience of a student’s perceived reality. I remember high school very much the same way. So the stereotypes make more sense when understood through the eyes of Rachel and the writings of her journals. This is what the film has most going for it. Since the movie is based primarily upon Rachel’s journaling, we are witnessing not just the events as they simply happened, but perhaps more importantly, how they were genuinely experienced by a person.
The life of Rachel, a typical and yet not-so-typical teenager, as depicted on screen shows the messiness and complications of real life and growing up. Throughout the film, we see her faith walk as more of a roller coaster ride. But isn’t everyone’s? As she wrote in her journal: “I don’t understand why having a walk with God is so hard for me. I’m so weak. At school, with friends, at work.” Rachel’s honest and heartfelt journals offer a hope-filled reminder that there is always love and purpose even in the midst of tremendous struggle and tragedy.
My number one recommendation for this film would be to cut the running time. At just under two hours, the pacing of the film really lags at points. Scenes and transitions could be tightened up a bit. This would also help to clean up the timeline of the film which at times becomes confusing. One moment, its Christmas; the next, its Easter, and then Prom. Without good establishing shots, it’s difficult to understand what’s going on and when.
Lastly, as inspiring as Rachel’s story is, one cannot help but feel a little awkward at the total absence of Cassie Bernall’s story. For those unfamiliar, Rachel’s story was first popularized by the book Rachel’s Tears by Beth Nimmo and Darrell Scott. But there was another bestselling book titled She Said Yes by Misty Bernall which is about Cassie, another Christian girl who was murdered in the Columbine shootings. Perhaps there were legal issues. I don’t know, but it just feels odd to not acknowledge the fact that there were other Christians who lost their lives that day.
I definitely recommend seeing this film. It will leave an impression and can make an impact in the lives of many regardless of their current spiritual state. It doesn’t try to proselytize or force theology. Rather it presents a real person and offers an invitation. The film does a remarkable job at conveying the utmost importance of relationships and their role in helping to shape us into the people we are. Rachel lived her life to touch people. She wrote, “I’ve always been drawn to hands. I think it’s because it’s the way we touch people… If one person could go out of their way to show compassion, it could start a chain reaction.” Truly, she has touched many in both her living and her legacy.
“I’m Not Ashamed” stars Masey McLain as Rachel and is directed by Brian Baugh (“To Save a Life,” “The Ultimate Gift”). Also starring is Ben Davies, Sadie Robertson, Korie Robertson, Jaci Velasquez, and Jennifer O’Neill. The film is rated PG-13 for thematic material, teen drinking and smoking, disturbing violent content and some suggestive situations. For more info visit: www.ImNotAshamedFilm.com
Finley is a doctoral student researching Organizational Leadership. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org