Last night I went to see the I Can Only Imagine movie, which tells the story behind MercyMe’s song of the same name, which just so happens to be the best selling Christian song of allllll time. As one of the film’s producers, Joe Knopp, has kids that go to school with my kids, I took my eleven-year-old daughter with me. How-ev-er, knowing that the film would contain songwriter Bart Millard’s story, which included brutal violence and beatings at the hands of his father (played by Dennis Quaid), I was a TAD nervous about bringing her, but I hedged my bets that it would be ok for her (it IS rated PG).
I was right. Though the movie DEFINITELY lets you know that Millard’s dad beat him, it does NOT show him beating him as a child (though there is one brief scene of abuse when Bart, played wonderfully by J. Michael Finley, is a man-sized teenager.) So, for my eleven-year-old daughter, it was fine. I would NOT take your kids if they are younger than nine or ten, are very sensitive, or have had ANY childhood trauma or abuse. That is my advice as a mom, but YOU know your kids best, so use your best judgment.
Overall, I thought the movie was wonderful. I have been pretty critical of “Christian” movies in the past: for so many, either low budget or COMPLETE cheesy-ness just comes through and muddles the story. I am happy to say that with the I Can Only Imagine movie, this is NOT the case. As a writer, I LOVE a good story, and this is a GOOD story that is well-told…something a movie just can’t make it without! The screenwriters did an excellent job packing Bart’s childhood and early adulthood into a two-hour movie. Perhaps most importantly, they did it without sugar-coating his pain in a Christian wrapper. You will see how Bart sings with a Christian band and praises Jesus all day long, but still kinda treats the girl he loves like crap and struggles to forgive and love his dad, even when his dad (played by Dennis Quaid), tries to make amends. Bart is portrayed not as super-Christian, but as HUMAN — a flawed one who loves Jesus and struggles to let his Heavenly Father give him what he needs to accept his earthly one.
I won’t spoil it for you, but I do want to tell you there are some lighthearted, downright FUNNY scenes in the movie that youth group kids of the 90s (like me!!) will really appreciate. Finley’s portrayal of Bart’s “spaz attack” (as we would have said in the 90s) when he met some of his Christian music idols (I won’t tell you who!) is downright hilarious.
Though I like to think of myself as a cool Christian who really enjoys “secular” film and music, I really loved this “Christian” movie. Not because it was a “Christian” story, but because it was, simply, a good one. It is definitely the best faith-based film I’ve ever seen in terms of acting and production – Finley, an unknown, is a real stand-out. Though there were a few parts of it that moved a little slow, the whole of the movie is definitely worth going to. And if your kids are old enough, do take them. My eleven-year-old, LOVES it, and she wants to go back.
Bottom line: even if, like me, you’re not overwhelmingly attached to the song, if you love a good story, you’ll love the movie. ENJOY! If you do go see it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!