I wasn’t going to review this film at first but after SO MANY people recommended it to me over the last week, I had to see what all the hype was about and I’m glad I did. The fact that this movie with very little marketing, a micro-budget of only 7 million dollars, and opening in only HALF the number of theaters that all the other major releases did, still finished 3rd at the box office this week with 17 million, beating its projection by nearly 15 million is nothing short of impressive. I went into this cold not knowing anything about the song or the band so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I Can Only Imagine is a film about the story behind the band MercyMe’s smash hit song under the same title. In the early 2000s, the song became the most-played contemporary Christian song of all time going triple platinum. The story is centered on the lead vocalist Bart played by J. Michael Finley, growing up in Texas with his abusive father and a mother that abandoned him. After a failed football career, he turns his passion towards music and singing, deciding to leave home and pursue a record deal. Unable to deal with the pressure of failure, he returns home for one last act of redemption and mends the relationships he destroyed in his past.
Christian movies are definitely undergoing a Renaissance in recent years. What is working in the genre is that they are finding more creative ways to tell their story and making those stories more relatable to their audiences. It will be very hard not to feel for Bart in the film, he describes his father as a monster and Dennis Quaid plays the asshole dad to a tee. Learning to deal with terrible parents and learning to forgive them are two concepts that are very difficult for many people who were victims of abuse. Bart says the inspiration behind his faith and the song was the fact that faith turned his father from the monster he despised into his best friend. The song while written in just 10 minutes took years of pain and heartache to build the emotion behind and it’s why it hit home with millions of people.
The acting is stellar as you couldn’t sell this story otherwise. J. Michael Finley is the avatar that drives the film with his charm and his voice while Dennis Quaid gives one of the best performances of his career. Watching this film it’s not hard to see why audiences are praising this film the way they are and I can safely say, this is the best film I’ve seen so far this year. I Can Only Imagine mirrors the song it is based on and is a word of mouth smash hit that keeps the Christian genre rolling.