I Can Only Imagine, rated PG
I Can Only Imagine is the story behind MercyMe’s song of the same title, the most- played Contemporary Christian song of all time. It is one of the best faith-based films that I have seen. The film is directed by Andrew and John Erwin (October Baby, Woodlawn, Mom’s Night Out), and written by Alex Cramer, Brent McCorkle (Unconditional), and John Erwin.
We first meet Bart Millard, played as a young boy by Brody Rose, living in Greenville, Texas. His home life isn’t good, as his father Arthur, played by two-time Golden Globe nominee Dennis Quaid (The Special Relationship, Far from Heaven), is physically and verbally abusive toward Bart and his mother Adele, played by Tanya Clarke.
***SPOILER ALERT ***
Arthur has never gotten over his failure to achieve his football dreams. Bart’s mom sends him to a church camp where he meets a girl named Shannon, played by Taegen Burns. But when Bart returns home, his Mom has left the home, abandoning him to live alone with his father. The older Bart, played by J. Michael Finley, tries to earn his father’s approval by playing football. But a crushing tackle results in both of Bart’s legs being broken, thus ending his football playing days and his hopes of fulfilling his father’s dreams.
Shannon, now played by Madeline Carroll, encourages him to take the Glee Club as an elective, led by Mrs. Fincher, played by Priscilla C. Schirer (War Room). It is there that he finds out that he can sing and is given a lead role in the musical Oklahoma!, a role that he accepts reluctantly. But Bart’s relationship with his father continues to deteriorate, and so he decides to leave both his father and Shannon.
Bart leaves for Oklahoma City and eventually becomes the lead singer for a then struggling band, MercyMe, named for Memaw’s favorite expression. He asks a famous music manager Brickell, played by actor and country music artist Trace Adkins, to attend one of the band’s shows. Brickell is supportive of Bart but tells him that the band isn’t quite ready. After a promising showcase at the Gospel Music Association doesn’t result in an expected record deal, Bart decides to return home to deal with his relationship with his father. But Bart is not prepared for the father he returns home to.
Michael Finley is excellent in the lead role of Bart Millard as is Dennis Quaid as Arthur Millard, Bart’s abusive father. Nicole DePort portrays Amy Grant in a twist to the story that I didn’t see coming. 91-year-old Oscar winner Cloris Leachman (The Last Picture Show), portrays Bart’s Memaw in a small role. Themes in this emotionally powerful film include family dysfunction, fear, abuse, core lies, pursuing dreams, forgiveness, repentance, faith, redemption and reconciliation.
I Can Only Imagine is an emotional, well-made and acted film, and one of the best faith-based films I’ve seen, although due to the subject matter, parts of the film are difficult to watch. If you want to read more about this powerful story, check out Bart Millard’s new book I Can Only Imagine: A Memoir.