Distributed By: Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions
Opening Theatrical Release Date: March 16th 2018
DVD/Blu Ray Release Date: June 12th 2018
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
I Can Only Imagine– Starring J Michael Finley, Dennis Quaid, Cloris Leachman, Madeline Carroll, Trace Adkins, Priscilla Shirer; Directed by The Erwin Brothers (Jon and Andrew Erwin)
Ever since starting our work in our café from the end of 2014 until now, we have not been to the cinemas regularly, and have only seen a couple of movies- 2 Star Wars movies. Yep, you heard me right, we haven’t seen that many movies at the movies for 3 and a half years. Not for lack of trying, and not because we didn’t want to, but mostly because circumstances at work, and our general tiredness at the end of each day, prevented us from having an enjoyable night out at Hoyts or Ritz or even at a drive thru moonlight cinema. It’s something that didn’t really bother me, and was something that I thought was the start of a new chapter for us. Maybe the notion of us watching a few movies here and there throughout the rest of our lives would be commonplace. So you’d probably guess my reaction when there was a movie I actually wanted to watch, and had the opportunity to watch, earlier this year. Yep, you guessed right- I was extremely excited, and I decided to jump at my chance and watch a movie at the cinemas. So, in late March, the four of us (mum, dad, Jon and myself) saw the movie I Can Only Imagine, based on Bart Millard’s life, and how he came to form the band MercyMe.
Why am I making such a big song-and-dance of watching the film based on one of my favourite Christian bands? Because…MercyMe is one of my favourite Christian bands. Aside from a few interviews with Bart here and there throughout their career, I had next to no knowledge of Bart’s history and how he came to start the band known as MercyMe. Of course, I knew that there was a story there- obviously such an emotional song like “I Can Only Imagine” had to come from deep within somewhere, and after many years of hearing the song over and over again (from 2001 until now!), I was definitely intrigued. But, my intrigue slowly transformed to eager anticipation- when the news broke in 2016 of a movie being made about the song, I was hooked. No matter who was going to be starring in the film, no matter who was directing it, I was going to see the film. And boy am I glad I did.
While I won’t bore you all with all the details of how the movie came about, nor the history of MercyMe (I guess that’s what google, your best friend, is for- as well as several interview videos that I will post at the end of this review!), I will say that this film is the best inspirational and faith based film I have seen since God’s Not Dead (the first one in 2014!) This movie has gripped me so far like no other this year, especially the performances from J Michael Finley (Bart Millard), Dennis Quaid (Arthur Millard), Trace Adkins (Scott Brickell) and Nicole DuPort (Amy Grant). There’s something about the song “I Can Only Imagine” that tugs at my emotions, my heart and my soul- obviously it was inspirational for so, so many more others back when it released- how else could it have reached number one in the mainstream charts in 2003 for 6 whole months?- and the story behind how the song gained rotation on mainstream radio in the first place, is quite remarkable and one I recently found online which you all can read here. From watching clips and interviews with MercyMe prior to watching the movie, I kind of had an idea of how the song was written and the profound personal aspect the song took for Bart, but seeing how the song was written and recorded on screen, was another thing all together.
There was not much I knew (aside from Wikpedia) about Bart Millard’s life, but I Can Only Imagine filled in most of the gaps. As a young boy, Bart was transfixed by music, and his dream was to be a musician, but Bart’s father Arthur squashed that dream very quickly, and kept beating him for many years, even after Bart’s mother left. In high school Bart joined the football team, because ‘that’s what Millard’s do’, but that ‘dream’, instilled into him by his father, died also pretty quickly when Bart suffered a freak accident and could never play again.
A chance encounter with a music teacher spurred on Bart to envision a new dream, a dream in which he’s a musician and a singer. Despite everything his father told him about how ‘dreams don’t pay the bills’, for many, many years, Bart stuck at his dream, didn’t let the words of his father which was supposed to bring him down, actually bring him down; and just put one foot in front of the other, putting his faith in God. Bart could have let this situation of broken bones lead him to not having a football career, easily draw him into a depression and into a hate for God, but instead Bart relied on God to show him His will for his life, and the thing He wanted Bart to do.
Even though this film is done as a ‘Hollywood drama’, and a few of the actual events that occurred were ‘Hollywood-ised’ (you can read all of the differences here!), I really don’t think the discrepancies matter in the long run. Because overall the movie showed me a number of things that maybe wouldn’t have been as hard hitting or as impactful had the film stayed true to events; with the film showing me the ins and outs of how to generally get a band up and running, the adversity Bart faced, and how he overcome obstacles with Jesus’ help, as he stayed true and faithful to the calling God placed and continues to place on his life. The fact that Bart was also very hands on and involved in the movie process was a great thing as well. From photos and interviews, Bart met up with cast members, crew members, and I think he spent days behind the camera on set just observing (correct me if I’m wrong!), so this movie is rather authentic and more real than I guess other sensationalised ‘inspired by a true story’ blockbusters, if you want to call them that. The fact that this movie is also released around Easter time is fitting too, given the story of redemption, grace and forgiveness interwoven throughout the movie- as Bart’s father Arthur Millard’s journey to become a Christian should encourage us all, and reassure us that we are never too far from Jesus’ love for us. Salvation is right here for us, should we choose to believe and accept His promise of eternal life.
I don’t know if Dennis Quaid qualifies to receive an Oscar for his performance, as this film wasn’t released around Oscar period time, but let me tell you that this was an Oscar Award winning performance, at least in my opinion. And even though the film is right now already released on DVD and Blu Ray, I still won’t spoil much more about the movie, except for the fact that you all will be changed by the film, as I was. After the movie, I wrote a couple of blogs about MercyMe about their albums The Generous Mr Lovewell (2010) and Almost There (2001), and you can read those if you want to know more about MercyMe and their general impact on my life. But I think for this film review, I’ll leave it all pretty open-ended, and may leave the review partly unfinished. The reason why, is that I reckon that if there is one movie you see this year, this is it. So I definitely don’t want to cheapen any effect the movie will have on you with a blow-by-blow synopsis of what occurred.
Even if you don’t like music, even if you don’t like MercyMe, even if you aren’t a Christian, I’d say you would still be blessed and changed by the universal message in this movie of going for your dreams despite adversity, and also by the message that no one is too far gone from Jesus’ love and forgiveness, just as Arthur Millard was changed. The message of Jesus dying on the cross and rising from the grave isn’t stated at all, however I am positive that the emotion and honesty of Bart and the writing of the hit song “I Can Only Imagine”, as brilliantly portrayed by J Michael Finley in his feature film debut, will encourage any watcher to check out the band, and subsequently be more open to Christianity. That’s a big claim, I hear you all say, and I agree- it is, but it’s a claim I have nevertheless made, and believe with all of my heart- that lives will be won for Christ through people watching this film, either at the cinema (probably the last session times!) or on DVD/Blu ray.
So as for what I would say you all should do after reading this review…I’d say ‘go watch the film’. Take your parents, friends, neighbours, spouse, kids, enemies, pets, anyone you can think of- cause I Can Only Imagine will be big, hopefully bigger than the song itself. It already is- the film has grossed so far $85.1 million on a $7 million budget and took 3rd place at the box office in its first week behind Black Panther and Tomb Raider, but I hope and pray that I Can Only Imagine will be bigger than that. So…before you leave and watch the film on DVD, Blu Ray, or even iTunes or Google Play, let me provide you with the trailer and a few other interviews and behind the scenes videos below, so that you can be psyched and ready for whenever you choose to watch I Can Only Imagine!
Did you guys end up watching I Can Only Imagine at the cinemas? Are you planning on picking up the movie on DVD or Blu-Ray? You can stay connected to all things connected with the movie on the official website, facebook, twitter and YouTube, and all things connected to MercyMe on their website, facebook, twitter and youtube! Hope you enjoy/enjoyed the movie!