This is a film with a powerful Christian message you can share with your teenagers without them thinking you’re square. Okay maybe they think you’re square anyway, but they’ll still appreciate the film. It is a little bit mushy in parts, but hey, it’s a love story. As writer and producer Galley Molina says, it’s a story of “surrender, redemption and second chances.” Inspired by Molina’s own life experiences, I’m In Love with a Church Girl tells the story of a man trying to break away from his drug-dealer past after doing time in prison.
Miles Montego, played by hip-hop star Jeff “Ja Rule” Atkins, is now a successful show promoter. But has he really left that old life behind? He still hangs out at his old haunts with his “boys,” Martin, (played by Christian rap star, T-Bone), “T” (played by Tobymac), and their gang. Trailing Montego are a DEA surveillance team, (Stephen Baldwin and Michael Madsen) gathering evidence to arrest them in a major drug bust.
Stopped at an intersection in the middle of town, Miles spies Vanessa Leon (played by Adrienne Bailon) driving by in the opposite direction in a silver convertible. Smitten, he turns his car around and speeds off after her, only to be stopped by the police. Later he coincidentally meets her at a pool party put on by a mutual friend, Nick, (well-known star of The Sopranos, Vincent Pastore). Thus begins their stormy romance, where Miles is inspired to learn about God through his love for Vanessa, and Vanessa learns, to her consternation, about Miles’ past life.
Church Girl Producer Galley Molina is CEO of Reverence Gospel Media (RGM). The movie closely parallels his life. In the movie, however, Miles finds the church girl and God after leaving jail. In real life, Molina found the church girl (to whom he is now married) and God first.
Then he went to jail.
"They think that once you become saved your life is just peaches and cream," said Molina. "For me, the storm of my life happened after. I gave my life to Christ and then I was indicted, I went to bed on top of the world and I woke up with the world on top of me."
Molina began writing Church Girl while in prison. In the movie he plays himself as the pastor of Vanessa’s church. On Miles’ first visit to the church, he sees Galley drive up in a gleaming white Lamborghini, decked out in white shirt and slacks, wearing a white cap. When Galley walks out on the stage to give the sermon, Miles is shocked to realize he is the pastor. It is an understatement to say that Galley does not look like your average pastor. After the service, they have a humorous but meaningful exchange:
Miles (skeptical): “So, you’re really like a pastor, huh? I mean like, a real pastor?”
Galley (amused): “As opposed to, like, an imaginary, cartoon pastor?”
Miles (skeptical): “Nah, that’s not what I meant. I mean, you don’t even look like a pastor.”
Galley (amused): “So, what’s a real pastor supposed to look like, Miles?”
Miles (skeptical): “I don’t know, I mean, look at you, man… your clothes, your jewelry…”
Galley (amused): “You’re kinda decked out yourself, Miles.”
Miles (accusing): “Yeah, but, I don’t drive no Lambo pastor.”
Galley (amused): “Lambo huh? I recall pulling into the parking lot and seeing a four-door black Bentley that I ain’t never seen here before, and I’m assuming that’s yours, man.”
Miles (accusing): “Yeah, but I ain’t no pastor.”
Galley (serious): “True that, but last time I read the Bible, it said nothing about style being a sin… Kinda goes back to that old saying about ‘you cannot judge a book by its cover,’ you heard?”
Miles (accepting): “Yeah I dig. So what made you want to be a pastor anyway?”
Galley (persuasive): “Well, God had a calling in my life, Miles. And as much as I tried to avoid that call, I couldn’t avoid it anymore. And here I am… He’s got a calling in your life too… in everybody’s life. But you gotta answer the phone when he calls, you dig?”
The narrative is authentic and the actors are comfortable with it. It sounds real because it is real for them. The dialog comes right from the streets, and Ja Rule, Molina, Bailon and the others give compelling performances. Moreover, in writing the script, Molina managed to pull off authentic dialog without any character uttering a single expletive – an accomplishment in and of itself.
I won’t tell you the rest of the story. You will have to watch the movie yourself to find out what happens.
In a genuinely ironic case of life imitating art, Atkins went to jail immediately following the movie’s filming in 2011 to serve a two year prison sentence on weapons and tax evasion charges. Though he had dabbled in religion, unlike many of the film’s participants, Ja Rule was not a Christian. At the time, Molina said, “Ja Rule has been ministered to. He's a dear friend… We've been praying for him a lot. He's been open; he's been so [receptive] to the word.”
Now out again, Atkins says it changed him. "It's been real crazy. Real reflective. You go through something like that…it changes you a little bit… You get a chance to really to be at one with yourself. A lot of late nights, by myself… So, you know, I'm really in a good head space. I really want to just do what I'm doing and not focus on nothing negative at all… Right now I'm on my God flow, you know what I mean? I got Job 1:21 tattooed on my chest."
The soundtrack was produced by 5-time Grammy Award winner and Christian music legend Israel Houghton, who wrote and performed original songs for the movie, including Providence, Sunday Kind of Love, Better, Worthy of All Praise and I Surrender. T-Bone also performed in a number of pieces, including, Possess My Body, Return of the Bionic Man and others.
For his part, T-Bone was enthusiastic to participate in the film upon reading the script. A Christian for 15 years, he too has a similar life story of street life and redemption. What got him the most was when he realized that the character he plays in the movie was actually someone he knew of “back in the day, when I was doing my thing…”
As a piece of contemporary drama, the film stands on its own. Actors turn in good performances and the story is solid and entertaining. Still, given Hollywood’s hostility to anything and everything Christian, this is a very brave film. It is boldly, proudly Christian, and as Molina says, it is indeed an inspiring story of “surrender, redemption and second chances.” Films like this should be supported if for no other reason than to reward producers willing to risk making healthy, clean and entertaining movies with an uplifting message, in counterpoint to the typically violent and decadent Hollywood fare.
Grammy Award-winning singer Donnie McClurkin said of the film, "I've seen this movie, and am both moved and inspired by the story, the characters, and the quality of both movie and music… This is not what people have come to expect from Christian films, and I know it will resonate deeply with viewers – even those who would never have gone anywhere near a movie that touches on the subject of faith."
I’m In Love With a Church Girl Opens nationally on October 18. HERE is a list of theatres where you can see it in your state.