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Friday, March 30, 2018

Review: I Can Only Imagine

The True Story of the Man Behind the Music

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: March 16th, 2018 – U.S.
Rating: PG
Genre: Drama, Family, Biography
Running Time: 110 minutes
Directors: Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin
Writers: Alex Cramer (story), 
Jon Erwin, Brent McCorkle
Cast: J. Michael Finley, Brody Rose, 
Madeline Carroll, Trace Adkins, 
Cloris Leachman, Dennis Quaid

"I Can Only Imagine" by Bart Millard and his band MercyMe is the bestselling Christian song of all-time. It attained Triple Platinum status, with over 2.5 million in sales, and became a massive crossover hit that reached secular audiences as well.

The film of the same name tells the true story of Bart Millard and how the song came to be.

Growing up, Millard (played as a boy by Brody Rose, in a heartbreaking performance) is abused by his dad, Arthur (Dennis Quaid), whose only facial expression is a deep scowl of disapproval and discontent. He actively discourages his son from following his musical dreams. "Dreams don't pay the bills," he lectures. "Nothing good comes from them. All it does is keeping you from knowing what is real."

His mother, Adele (Tanya Clarke), and his "Memaw" (Cloris Leachman) try their best to look out for him. Adele sends her son to a week-long Christian camp, where he meets Shannon (Taegen Burns), who has been harboring a secret crush on him. It's the best week of his life. But everything changes for the worse when he comes back home.

Left alone to fend for himself, Bart (J. Michael Finley) eventually abandons his music to play football – because it's the only thing he and his father can find common ground on. An injury leads Bart to the one extracurricular activity in school that's still open: Glee Club. There, he meets a teacher (Priscilla C. Shirer) who encourages and nurtures his musical talent.

Through it all, Shannon (now played by Madeline Carroll, who you may remember from "Swing Vote" and "Flipped") has remained by his side.

After high school, he leaves town and forms a band – MercyMe – whose name comes from an expression his "Memaw" used. To get their big break, they need to impress Brickell (the always solid Trace Adkins). Bart is full of himself but Brickell brings him back down to earth. "I don't think you found your song, found your soul," he cautions. Until Bart can tap into something's real, he advises, MercyMe will never truly succeed.

Bart's troubles – with his music and girlfriend – send him on a soul-searching journey back home, back to the father who abused him. But his dad is no longer the same man. There's now a Bible by his bedside and a ticking clock on his lifespan.

Through those trials and tribulations, Bart puts pen to paper and writes "I Can Only Imagine." It eventually reaches the hands of beloved Christian singer Amy Grant (Nicole DuPort), whose angelic voice lifted Bart up during some very tough times in his life. What happens next is probably unheard of in both the music and entertainment industries at large.

Because of Bart Millard's beliefs, "I Can Only Imagine" is considered a Christian movie. But it doesn't make the same mistakes most religious films do. 99% of movies that call themselves "Christian" focus first and foremost on religion, at the expense of story and character. They're heavy-handed, preachy, unrealistic, and intelligence-insulting. They don't operate in the real world. "I Can Only Imagine" works because it's about people who are Christian instead of being a blunt manifesto on Christianity itself. Like the song that inspired it, the film version of "I Can Only Imagine" will be able to cross over and appeal to audiences from all walks of life. Many Christian films are too narrow in scope to be enjoyed by anyone other than priests, nuns, and pastors – and even they're probably secretly rolling their eyes at the majority of the genre. I can only imagine most of them used a few unholy words to describe what cockamamie drivel "God's Not Dead" was. (I'm a fan of David A.R. White, who produces and acts in those movies, but he can do so much better.) If their ultimate goal is to reach more people with their message, they're failing miserably by playing only to their own base and no one else. "I Can Only Imagine" avoids the same pitfalls.

Bart Millard claims it took him only ten minutes to write the song that would launch his career, but as the movie says and shows, it really took him a lifetime. Whether it was "God's hand," life's random but always unpredictable circumstances, or both, the process that led to the creation of "I Can Only Imagine" is a fascinating one to watch unfold onscreen.


  1. Great review. The family and I are going to see this movie tomorrow. -Jimmie

  2. Thank you. I think you guys will love it!


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