MOVIE REVIEW: “I Can Only Imagine”


I love the group MercyMe, so when Christine and I had the privilege of previewing this film several months ago, we jumped at the chance.

The movie, I Can Only Imagine (in theaters now) tells the story behind the 2001 hit song by Mercy Me.

I have to say, the Erwin brothers (Directors for Mom’s Night Out, Woodlawn and October Baby) have done it again. It’s the emotionally-charged life story, so far, of MercyMe’s frontman, Bart Millard, and how he came to eventually write the tune about heaven.

The film opens in 1985, when the young care-free Bart Millard lives on a farm with his parents in Texas. But we quickly see his dad Arthur is not a nice guy. He does some pretty rotten things that hurt Bart and shock us too. In the role as Bart’s father, Hollywood veteran, Dennis Quaid (Vantage Point, Frequency, The Parent Trap and Soul Surfer) does an excellent job.

Bart goes to church camp and becomes a Christian, where he meets Shannon a girl who obviously likes him. Although Bart returns home spiritually renewed, he finds his mother has left. No way! Is this what she was planning all along…for Bart to be gone when she packed up and abandoned the family?

Left with his abusive father, the young dreamer continues trying to earn his father’s approval by joining the high school football team. But when an accident breaks both of Bart’s legs during a game, he’s told he can never play again.

So much for pleasing Dad.

In the months that follow, Bart discovers he can sing. Who knew? What’s more, he likes to write songs.

As a young adult, Bart eventually forms a band, MercyMe. But when he returns home one day to confront his father, he finds a different man there. That’s all I can say without spoilers.

For a main character that we’re supposed to love, Bart (played by newcomer J. Michael Finley) has a lot of faults and he’s a little pushy (prideful?) about his talent. But I’ve always heard your protagonist should be flawed if viewers are to like him. So there you go. Many characters model patience and grace toward Bart, especially his girlfriend (whom he dumps) and his band’s manager.

I love the spiritual content of this film. Faith, fear and eventually forgiveness intertwine as we follow Bart’s journey to overcome the deep damage caused by his mom and dad.

We see Bart with a Bible, singing in church, practicing forgiveness, helping the less fortunate (a.k.a. his dad) and other signs of fruit.

While obviously a Christian film, I Can Only Imagine is rated PG, so parents want to be careful if your kids are sensitive to some of the following images:

  • Bart’s parents have a fight and we hear screams and breaking glass off camera.
  • His angry dad stands outside his room holding a belt.
  • The father throws things when angry, breaking windows and dishes–even breaking plate over Bart’s head. There is blood.
  • He throws a gallon of milk at Bart’s head another time.
  • You’ll hear the crunch of bones when Bart breaks his legs and the Xray might be gross to some viewers.
  • Also, Bart’s dad is ill at one point and screams while clutching his stomach.

But that aside, there’s no sex, no alcohol, drugs or cussing. Still, I Can Only Imagine is about pain and redemption, brokenness and forgiveness. I think they portray this beautifully and realistically.

All of us have broken places inside in need of redemption. I liked it. Fans of MercyMe will love it. You just might want to add this one to your collection.


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