By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
I had a fairly lengthy Christian Rock phase when I was in my early teens, and you know what, I don’t regret it at all.
I was a pretty cool kid, is what I’m saying.
I Can Only Imagine is about the writing of the same-titled megahit that put Mercy Me on the map, and the evolution of lead singer Bart Millard’s troubled relationship with his father that inspired it.
Dennis Quaid has been relatively quietly adding gravitas to faith-based films for near a decade now, and he does with aplomb here. His abusive father feels like the most well-rounded and empathetic character in the film, even somehow at his most abusive. It’s an impressively layered performance in a part that could have been played so much flatter from what was on the page. He single-handedly raises the bar for this film, and lends it an emotional heft that honestly makes it worth your time if you’ll give it a chance.
Christian film fans who are a little wary of the true life story of an abusive father/son relationship, never fear- I Can Only Imagine maintains an impressively wholesome image pretty much throughout. Even the dark parts seem Norman Rockwell wholesome, and certainly no more harrowing than anything you’d see on CBS Primetime (before the kids go to bed).
For everyone else, especially anyone who might otherwise relate to such a story and derive something powerful from how it progresses, it’s a bit hard to connect to because it’s sanitized past the point of real life recognizance for the most part.
J. Michael Finley plays the lead, and while he’s not terrible with his Sean Astin meets Seth Rogen vibes, he’s not quite capable of carrying the film, either, especially across from Quaid. It appears to be his debut performance in literally anything, so context matters, but one thing I can assure you is the man probably shouldn’t be getting any more high school parts.
Dad, you just don’t understand teenagers like me!
At one point, a music executive tells Bart what he really things about his music, saying that it feels insincere and impersonal, like he’s singing someone else’s hits. Well, it appear screenwriter Alex Cramer has his own deep-set insecurities and doubts about his own script, and he’s right on the money. You can’t make a deeply personal film constructed almost entirely out of tropes and cliches, and he clearly knows it…
Truly, I am deeply concerned about whether my estranged high school sweetheart will show up for my climactic concert.
I Can Only Imagine is as slickly milquetoast as you’d expect from the particulars of the film, but Dennis Quaid elevates it anyhow into something more emotionally impactful than you’d expect.
I Can Only Imagine (2018) Movie Review
Take a Drink: for every Christian music star name drop and/or cameo
Take a Drink: for every live performance.
Take a Drink: for quality Trace Adkins reaction shots
Do a Shot: whenever the script just can’t resist Hollywooding up the story in obvious ways