Movie review for I Can Only Imagine
|2018’s I Can Only Imagine, directed by the Erwin Brothers, follows the true story of Bart Millard (J. Michael Finley), the lead singer, and frontman for the band, MercyMe. The film takes a panoramic view of Millard’s life, showcasing the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father (Dennis Quaid) from an early age, and the heartache of his mother’s abandonment. The band’s hit 2001 song by the same name serves as the film’s backbone; a “behind the music” approach to filmmaking.
The somewhat predictable movie follows Bart through his childhood in Texas, shows his interest in Christian music grow after receiving a tape of Amy Grant at a church camp, showcases a young romance with a girl that eventually becomes his wife, then focuses on an ill-fated football career in high school that ends in injury. Unable to play sports, he joins the glee club and lands a leading roll in the play, Oklahoma where he stuns the audience with his rendition of “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’.” After graduation, he leaves town, joins the group, MercyMe and sees the band struggle to impress tough critics, and record labels. The band enlists the help of manager, Scott Brickell, who helps them build their audience.
It becomes clear, as the plot progresses, that Millard acts mostly out of a determination to please his father, who primarily reacts with animosity, at one point hitting him over the head with a dinner plate. Though more severe abuse is spoken of in the film, very little is seen on camera, which keeps the film viewable for all audiences.
I Can Only Imagine makes heavy use of “forgiveness” as a theme, from Bart’s attempts to get his dad to love him, and later his father’s salvation. It is after Bart’s father’s death from pancreatic cancer, that Bart wonders what heaven is like which spurs him on to write the famous song. This is a powerful, and poignant part of the movie made even more emotional with the time Bart spent taking care of his father and growing close to him on his deathbed.
Bart meets Amy Grant, who wants to record the song in an attempt to revitalize her career. She is surprised to hear that he wrote “I Can Only Imagine” in ten minutes. “No, Bart.” She says. “That song took a lifetime to write.” Bart gives the song to her but she changes her mind at the last moment, and MercyMe’s fame is solidified when she calls Bart on stage at her concert and allows him to sing it for her fans. Afterward, MercyMe records “Imagine,” and it tops the charts at number one. The album, Almost There, which features the tune, reaches triple platinum status.
“Imagine” is a film rooted deeply in the Christian genre, but moviegoers should not let that stop them from seeing this film. The Erwin Brothers did a phenomenal job at keeping the cliched cheesy words and phrases so prevalent in the majority of Christian flicks, out of this masterpiece. The movie lacks both preachiness and smarminess, all while providing a powerful story of love, redemption, forgiveness and amazing music. With a scant 7 million dollars spent making this movie, this film is proof that low budget doesn’t have to mean low quality.
The film includes such big names as Cloris Leachman, as Bart’s grandmother, and Trace Adkins as band manager, Scott Brickell. Barts’s grandmother is a minor character, but it’s still an important role, as she is the person who names the band and gives Bart the idea for the title song. When Bart tells his grandma that he’s joined a band, her reply is “Mercy me, get a real job.” Then at his father’s funeral, his grandmother leans toward him and whispers. “Imagine what he’s seeing in heaven right now.” Broadway actor, J. Michale Finley shines in his first movie role and sings all the songs himself. He does an excellent job at sounding like the “real” Bart Millard.
The Erwin Brothers directed such films as “October Baby,” “Mom’s Night Out,” and “Woodlawn.” “I Can Only Imagine”, their fifth movie has grossed around 83 million dollars, won “Inspirational Film of the Year” at the Dove awards and was nominated for a People’s Choice award.
The song, I Can Only Imagine is the best selling Christian single of all time. The story behind the song is equally impressive and deserving of a film in its honor. Those wanting to see this film should be prepared to shed some tears and have some tissues on hand. The PG rating keeps the film suitable for even the youngest of audiences, making this the perfect family movie night film.