I have long been a fan of the band, MercyMe. I own several of their CDs and one of my favorite songs of theirs, called Beautiful, is on my iPhone. I listen to it any time I need a reminder about my worth. I also love the song that launched this group…I Can Only Imagine. Like many other people, I listened to it on repeat when it released in 1999.
I love too that a film released recently that tells the story behind the song, listed as the best selling Christian single of all time. I attended a matinee showing yesterday, with my mom and sister Linda.
I Can Only Imagine stars Dennis Quaid, J. Michael Finley, Brody Rose, Trace Adkins, Madeline Carroll and Cloris Leachman. This family drama based on a true story, directed by Jon and Andrew Erwin, is rated PG for some adult themes, including abuse, and has a run time of 1 hour and 50 minutes.
Young Bart Millard (Rose) may be just a kid who rides his bike and likes to make things from scraps, but he’s already had to learn to cope with difficult things. Life is hard at home, and it becomes even harder after his mom leaves while Bart is away at camp. Bart’s dad, Arthur (Quaid) is an alcoholic who is bitter and angry about the way his own life has unfolded. The career he hoped for in football never materialized. He expresses his frustration by being verbally and physically abusive to his wife and young son.
Bart finds solace in music, drowning out the world by popping on headphones and listening to his favorite cassettes. As a youth, Bart (Finley) attempts to please his father by playing football. But when an injury ends his chances of playing, Bart turns to the high school glee club as an elective class.
His disappointed father sees another football career disappear before it even started, sending him into fits of rage. The only support Bart receives is from his girlfriend Shannon (Carroll) and his Memaw (Leachman).
Bart’s life shifts when his music teacher discovers he can sing. He performs the lead in the school musical and begins to sing regularly at church. As soon as he graduates, Bart leaves home, anxious to be as far from his abusive father as possible.
When he meets some young men looking for a lead singer, Bart joins the group, and even comes up with the name for the new band…MercyMe. Memaw inspired the band’s name. When Bart told her he was joining a band she exclaimed, “Mercy me, get a real job!”
The group travels across the US in a renovated bus, playing any gigs they can get. Life on the road is hard, but the guys work on putting together their own unique sound and catching a break. An opportunity for bigger venues comes when a talent agent, Scott Brickell (Adkins) listens to a performance and offers his help. He encourages the band to find their song by finding their soul.
But the record labels that come to the Nashville show aren’t impressed enough. They see potential but feel the group still has work to do. Bart considers quitting on his dream. He feels he has failed, just as his father predicted he would.
Brickell very wisely sees that the relationship between Bart and his father is preventing the singer/song writer from finding his true voice. Bart makes the difficult decision to return home and settle things with his dad.
Arthur is a changed man, and a dying man. Diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, Arthur asks for forgiveness from his son. Everything that Bart has done before pales in comparison to giving his dad what he requests. Arthur has been reading a Bible, and working on the shabby house. He knows his time is short. Is there time enough to heal the relationship with his son and find peace before he dies? And is Bart willing to forgive?
This was an excellent film. I like movies based on true stories, and I always appreciate learning the story behind a song. At its core, this is a story about forgiveness and redemption and restoration. It teaches that amazing gifts flow from a healed heart, a whole heart, gifts such as the song I Can Only Imagine. Bart was inspired by his father, and words that Memaw spoke at the funeral, when he wrote the lyrics in ten minutes.
If you’ve always wondered how the song came about, or if you want to watch a family oriented movie that features redemption and restoration, catch I Can Only Imagine at the theater. You will be inspired.
Listen to the song HERE