Directed By: The Erwin Brothers
Starring: J. Michael Finley, Madeline Carroll, Trace Adkins, Priscilla Shirer, Cloris Leachman and Denis Quaid
It’s the song that brings ultimate hope to so many…often in the midst of life’s most challenging moments. Amazingly, the song was written in mere minutes by MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard. In reality, those lyrics took a lifetime to craft. He found faith at a young age, but life was not easy for Bart. He leaned into an active imagination and his love of music as he escaped a troubled home life. As he grew older, Bart turned to football in hopes of somehow connecting with his abusive father. Chasing a dream, while running from broken relationships, Bart hit the road in a tour bus with his new band MercyMe.
Many know the song I Can Only Imagine. This movie tells the story, behind the song.
I always approach the viewing of movies falling into the category of Christian, with a sense of hesitation. All too often they’re poorly done, wishy washy and at worse, a movie targeted toward a very small audience. Even though the official genre for I Can Only Imagine falls into the Drama/Family category, I still approached my screening with a sense of caution. However, I’m happy to say the Erwin Brothers do not disappoint with their production in this movie. With a strong cast made up of such notables as Dennis Quaid, Cloris Leachman and Trace Adkins, I Can Only Imagine brings with it a sense of credibility and star power many such movies lack. The standout in the movie comes from newcomer to the big screen J. Michael Finley playing the lead role of Bart Millard. Finley made his broadway debut in Les Miserables in 2014. His brilliant acting performance is only heightened with his incredible vocal performance in this movie.
Clocking in at close to two hours, I Can Only Imagine falls prey to the long standing problem of – How to set up a story, without becoming fragmented and disjointed. While the problem does not last long, the first 20 minutes or so seem somewhat jumpy and non-connected, while the producers fill in the back story for the rest of the movie. Don’t get me wrong, this is a brilliant example of the long lost art of storytelling. But, the opening scenes felt somewhat like riding in the back of a pickup truck bumping along a gravel road. Then, once the movie hits its stride, the story of the song and the songwriter, hits a home run. I Can Only Imagine is much more than just a song. It’s a story of redemption. It’s a story of a journey. It’s a story of fatherhood. It’s a story of pursuing your dreams, in the midst of the bumps and bruises of life. It’s a story which only brings more meaning to the popular song I Can Only Imagine.
In his book Seeing What is Sacred, Ken Gire writes: “The writer is a custodian of the stories once spoken around campfires. Stories we are admonished not to forget. A storyteller has the task of running behind the lines to make sure the stories live, to make sure those shining memories or our humanity, however brief, are not forgotten.” I Can Only Imagine does just that. This is a the story behind the song, which started around a campfire. In the end, I Can Only Imagine not only brings a tear to your eye, but encourages you to love, forgive, and keep moving forward in the face of naysayers, no matter who they may be.
Family-Friendly with a 3.5 out of 5 Lloyd Rating
My wife and I cut our teeth in the movie review world as movie critics in the mainstream arena for a number of years. Our main focus in what we called Frame by Frame, still holds true today – Is the movie family-friendly? With a rating of PG, we can say I Can Only Imagine firmly falls into the category of family-friendly. Back in the day our Frame by Frame rating system was based on what we called Lloyds. Short for celluloid, our film strip icon served us well, as we bring him back to life once again for reviews we’re doing now. Our Director Lloyd to the left is giving his – and our – stamp of approval on this movie as family-friendly with a 3.5 out of 5 Lloyd rating.
While I Can Only Imagine may not turn into a Box Office hit simply because of it’s limited release, this is definitely a movie worth seeing, and yes, maybe even adding to your DVD library. If it’s anything like the song, I Can Only Imagine the movie, is bound to not only find broad acceptance in the Christian marketplace, but also in the mainstream marketplace.
Enjoy the show!