Disclaimer: I am unabashedly biased in the case of this particular review.
I grew up in the same church as J. Michael Finley, one of the stars of this film, and in high school I was among one of the first “official” members of his fan club. As such, I am incredibly excited for his film debut and no one will convince me he did anything other than a great job. I’ll do my best to be impartial about the rest of the review, however.
I Can Only Imagine tells the story behind the creation of band MercyMe’s hit song of the same name. The film details the trauma Bart Millard (Finley), suffered at the hands of his abusive father, Arthur (Dennis Quaid), and their eventual reconciliation after Arthur is transformed through a newfound faith.
Pro: Dennis Quaid gives a solid performance, pairing Arthur’s sudden, violent outbursts with a desperation to justify his actions and control his life that’s always simmering just beneath the surface.
Con: The pacing of the film could have been better; for a story that centered around a transformation, we weren’t shown a lot of who Arthur became; granted, his illness didn’t give him a lot of time to be that man, something Bart observes as being unfair in his
journaling, but I think some time could have been taken from a few of the early scenes to stretch some of the reconciliation montage moments into actual scenes. And though I know this is Bart’s story, a little more time spent on the band would have been nice too, at least to the point where you could distinguish one character from another.
Pro: Unlike many “inspirational” or “Christian” films, the minds behind I Can Only Imagine seem to understand the principle that a movie should tell a story first, not a message. Most of the time, the film manages to show the transformative powers of grace and forgiveness through the characters’ actions, rather than telling the audience outright.
Pro: Besides the themes of forgiveness and transformation, I liked how the film also touched on the idea of artistic authenticity. Bart is accused of wearing a mask in his personal life and not being real enough in his performances, until finally band manager Brickell (Trace Adkins) tells him to “stop running” and let the “pain become your inspiration.” Toward the end of the film, Amy Grant (Nicole DuPort) rather dramatically returns the song to MercyMe instead of performing it as her own single on the basis that it’s more powerful coming from Bart because it’s his story, his pain, that fueled it, not hers.
Pro: Cloris Leachman plays Millard’s Memaw.
Both an emotional father-son drama and a rousing success story, I suggest checking out I Can Only Imagine if you’re in the mood for something uplifting this weekend.