Pros: Inspiring story based on the life of MercyMe’s lead singer
Cons: Plays a bit with the timeline, acting early in the movie
The Bottom Line:
Bart Millard’s Background
Provides inspiration in
This mostly good film
“Mercy Me! Is That Really His Voice?”
I came late to the MercyMe bandwagon, not buying any of their releases until they had their third one out, but I’ve become a fan over the years. Still, I wasn’t planning on seeing I Can Only Imagine until I learned it was the life story of Bart Millard, their lead singer. Intrigued, I decided to see it.
Bart grew up in a small town in Texas. His father was physically abusive, and his only escape was music. One summer, his mother sent him to a church camp, but while he was there, his mother left the family, leaving him alone with his father.
In high school, Bart (played by J. Michael Finley as a teen and adult) tried everything he could to please his father (Dennis Quaid) before falling into the starring role in the school play. That taste of the stage focused him on performing music as a career. But would be able to make a living at music? Will he and his father reconcile?
So, my teaser probably isn’t leaving much to the imagination. This movie doesn’t have many twists or big surprises, but since this is based on a true story, then that isn’t unusual.
However, I found the story extremely moving. Most of the abuse is only hinted at, but it is enough to make us understand where Bart is coming from. Watching how God changed not one but two lives is inspiring. Even if you don’t have anything like that in our lives, it can still remind us of the power of God in our lives.
Now, if you are already cringing at the idea of a Christian movie, expecting it to preach at you, don’t worry. If anything, the fact that Bart is a Christian is under played, in my opinion. And yet, the message still comes through, so maybe that’s just my expectations. Yes, ultimately, we know that it is God who changed Bart’s father’s life, and Bart’s as well, but that’s done without resorting to lectures.
Unfortunately, this movie does suffer a little from Christian movie syndrome. There are moments of weak acting and weak writing. It’s especially true in the first 20 minutes when we meet Bart as a boy. And there’s the obvious fact that an adult is playing high schooler Bart. That actually surprises me a bit since they did a great job on the makeup for Cloris Leachman, who plays Bart’s Meemaw. She definitely ages in the three different times we see her.
As I was watching, I kept trying to work the story they told into what I knew of the actual timeline for the band. I’m sure they changed some details to make it a better movie. That doesn’t change the message about the power of God in a life.
A film dealing with abuse could be dark, but they cover that part of the story mostly with dialogue and a couple of scenes with minimal violence. The film deserves its PG rating, but it doesn’t come close to pushing any boundaries there.
My biggest issue with the film, honestly, is the casting of Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant. Yes, these two major names in Christian music had something to do with MercyMe’s success, so it makes sense they are in the film. And the actors cast here bear a passing resemblance to the singers. But it was still different enough that I was distracted when they were on the screen. For some reason, I didn’t have that issue with any of the members of MercyMe. Go figure.
And yes, there is a reason for the name of the movie. MercyMe fans will recognize it as the band’s single biggest hit. In fact, back in 2001, it was even charting on non-Christian music stations. This story leads up to Bart writing the song “I Can Only Imagine.” How that plays out I will leave for you to discover.
One final warning – bring tissues with you. Okay, so I cry at the drop of a hat, but I was tearing up in the second half of the film quite a bit. Yes, this is an uplifting film; I wouldn’t recommend a depressing film at all.
I actually knew very little about MercyMe other than their music before watching this movie. I enjoyed getting to learn more about Bart and the band’s early days. I highly recommend I Can Only Imagine for their many fans. Even if you aren’t familiar with their music, the story told here will inspire and uplift you.