I Can Only Imagine is, more or less, about the act of forgiveness. And just like that personal journey, this movie starts out tough before it starts feeling better for everyone.
The film is based on the double platinum single of the same name written by Christian rock artist Bart Millard. The song was a launching pad for Millard and his band MercyMe; selling 2.5 million copies and touching the hearts of listeners around the world. I hadn’t heard the song before the movie, so I can’t comment whether or not the story behind the song had reached its core audience. But, directors Andrew and Jon Erwin are determined to explain the music and lyrics beyond the measure it was written on.
The Erwins are no strangers to faith-based filmmaking, although their previous film Mom’s Night Out only featured them dipping their toes in the sub-genre. I Can Only Imagine is more submerged in Christianity only because Millard was inspired to write the song after observing how faith helped his abusive father find salvation. Even though audiences expect what the film is preaching before buying a ticket, the Erwins still ease movie goers in. Unfortunately, before the film gains substance, it subjects the audience to corny performances and fast exposition.
The history of the song reaches back to Millard’s childhood in Texas, when his rampaging father (Dennis Quaid) took out his frustrations and distress on his wife and son. After trying to seek his approval and receiving nothing in return, Bart (played by Broadway star J. Michael Finley) pursued a career in music, and met some helpful people along the way, including music producer Scott Brickell (played by country artist Trace Adkins) and singer Amy Grant (as herself).
Despite being about a musician who hadn’t received a film treatment before, I Can Only Imagine is disappointingly derivative; further proving that any filmmaker making a biopic about a musician or an influential musical period should watch Jake Kasdan’s brilliant spoof Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and do the exact opposite. The film finds its groove when Bart discovers a disconnection between himself and his music, and decides to confront his troubled past and travel home. This latter half of the film is carried by Finley and Quaid. It’s a rather touching reunion despite the Erwins still playing up the mushy melodrama.
I Can Only Imagine is the ideal Sunday matinee. By no means am I pandering towards a specific crowd with that recommendation; just to those looking for something mild to watch on a quiet day.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie
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