Directed by: Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin
Premise: Based on true events. After an abusive childhood, Bart Millard leaves home to pursue his dream of musicianship. While eking out a living as a member of the Christian rock band MercyMe, Millard writes the hit song “I Can Only Imagine.”
What Works: I Can Only Imagine is a faith-based movie and it is one of the better examples of this kind of film. For one, I Can Only Imagine is well made. The film looks professional and has a few impressive images, particularly in moments taking place on the Millard’s farm. The movie doesn’t play into the victim narrative as seen in the God’s Not Dead series and it presents its religious themes in a way that is accessible instead of alienating. A lot of the faith based movie genre is geared toward a very specific audience. I Can Only Imagine will play for them but it will also have crossover appeal. The movie is primarily about the relationship between a father and son and the way faith by way of music brings them together and provides a path toward reconciliation. This is an uplifting and feel good movie but the filmmakers don’t overplay their hand. The story includes a lot of drama but it’s never unnecessarily soppy. I Can Only Imagine is anchored by its performances by J. Michael Finley and Dennis Quaid as Bart Millard and his father. The tension between father and son feels authentic and the residual pain and guilt is apparent in their performances. The cast also includes Trace Adkins as a manager who guides MercyMe through the music business and Adkins adds some dry humor to the movie. The musical sequences of I Can Only Imagine are generally well done. As with the dramatic material, the filmmakers don’t overplay the music and hold off on revealing the titular song until the appropriate moment.
What Doesn’t: Actor J. Michael Finley plays Bart Millard from high school through adulthood. The filmmakers don’t do much to alter his look and so Finley appears far too old to be in high school. In that respect, I Can Only Imagine doesn’t do much to demarcate the passage of time. The father is diagnosed with cancer before his son leaves home and it’s unclear how much time has passed when they reunite. By far the weakest element of I Can Only Imagine is the love story. Millard meets his future wife when they are children and it’s not clear why these two are together. They don’t share anything nor does the film demonstrate them doing things for each other. Millard breaks up with his high school sweetheart, played by Madeline Carroll, only to win her back through the song. It’s a cheap use of the female character that reduces her to a trophy.
Bottom Line: I Can Only Imagine is a satisfying story of music, faith, and redemption. It gives the intended audience exactly what they are looking for but it is also made in a way that that will play to a broader audience than the average faith-based production.
Episode: #694 (April 15, 2018)