Jake Taylor has everything. He's the star on his high school basketball team and he has a scholarship to the college he's always dreamed of attending. He lives in a gorgeous house, he has a beautiful and popular girlfriend, and he's the king at every keg party. He thinks his life can't get any better. Until the day when his best friend Roger walks into school and shoots himself right in front of Jake. Suddenly Jake realizes that everything that mattered to him doesn't any more.
Roger liked to play video games. He walked with a limp, and he was black. Any one of these reasons would have made him the target of bullying at school, but you put all three of them together, and he had no chance. Rejected by his peers, and rejected everywhere else, Roger felt as though he was screaming for attention, and no one would listen. Shooting himself was the only way to get the attention he so badly wanted, and Jake took upon himself the blame. Jake had been so busy seeking the acceptance of the cool kids and the cute girls that he, too, had turned his back on Roger, despite how close they had once been.
Wracked with guilt, Jake seeks out the local pastor, who takes the time to talk with him about his feelings and what he should do with them. It was here that the movie took on a new depth for me, and I really started to think.
Jake told the pastor that he didn't just want to be some Christian, and the pastor agreed. God doesn't just need more Christians. He needs Christians who believe it and do it. Jake made it very clear that if he was going to change his life completely and become a Christian, it would have to be something that he did with his whole heart and soul. He was not going to be a hypocrite. He starts by seeking out the kids at school who were loners, like Roger had been, and inviting them to sit with him at lunch. One boy, Jonny, was in special need of friendship, and Jake was able to provide that for him.
Jake decides to get baptized, and shortly afterward, everything falls apart. His girlfriend comes to him and tells him she's pregnant, and his parents announce that they're divorcing. Jake wonders where God was through all this, and questions if it's worth it to try to follow Christ. But then he realizes that it's with God's help that he'll be able to solve these problems, that God didn't cause them. The wheels had been set in motion long before Jake converted, and the consequences had to be experienced. He then humbles himself and does what he can to correct his mistakes.
This film touched me on a lot of different levels. At first, I was deeply moved by seeing these kids as the victims of bullying and the very real effect it was having on their lives. Then I was taken on a spiritual journey with Jake as he made the decision to be a Christian, no matter what the cost. The same kids who had picked on Roger were now picking on him because of his new beliefs, and yet he stayed with the course. He had to fight for his right to worship, even butting heads with his father, but he hung in there because he knew it was right. In the end, he postponed his own dreams to take care of his girlfriend during her pregnancy, and was by her side as she delivered and gave the baby up for adoption. I asked myself the question, "What does it mean to be a Christian?"
It's one thing to say you are a Christian. But what does it mean to be one? "Being" describes what you are. It's not a mask or a pretense. It's your essence. Being a Christian means that you have made the choice to act in a Christ-like way, regardless of the cost. Jake was a total mess at the beginning of the film, but he made a choice and took the actions necessary to back up that choice, and by the conclusion of the story, he had changed his entire life. It was a series of deliberate choices to do the right thing, not a series of accidents or coincidences that just happened to land him in the middle of a happy ending.
Personally, I take spirituality for granted a lot of the time. I grew up in a Christian family, and I've never had to live without it. I've just assumed it would always be there, and there are times when I don't seek out things that will make my testimony grow. Other times, I'm seeking it diligently, but my efforts are not as consistent as they could be. Watching Jake take deliberate steps to change his life was inspiring to me. He wasn't just waiting for everything to work out all right - he wanted to be part of the solution.
This film was rated PG-13 for scenes with drinking, cutting, and some sexuality, but while I found it a little gritty, I found none of it disturbing. This is a film I'm going to watch again, and it's a film I'm going to show each of my children as they hit the age of twelve. I want them to understand the consequences of bullying so they can know how to reach out to those around them who may feel like outcasts. I also want them to see positive media images of a teen who decided that he didn't want an ordinary life.
This movie will be released on August 3rd, and it's one I'll be recommending again and again.
I received a copy of this movie free in exchange for my review, but that did not influence my thoughts.