Music, such a simple concept and yet in our world a complicated discussion generator about what is and isn’t considered music. Depending on your generation, you may not agree with the musical choices that your family, friends, and colleagues choose. Yet, there are those songs that are carried throughout the years, numbers that get forever immortalized in the halls of fame. One such song is Mercy Me’s I Can Only Imagine, a religion reviving track with pop and country elements that has been covered by so many that it’s hard to forget. This weekend, the movie revealing the origin of this beloved song debuts, in hopes of touching the hearts and souls of millions. Will it succeed? Or does it fall to only the select few of the religious zealots. Robbie K here to help your viewing pleasures. Let’s get started.
Acting: In movies like these, the message often gets delivered by overdramatic performances that are heavily reliant on crying and sighing. Fortunately, this movie manages to break that tradition, giving us performances that are more realistic and meaningful than cheesy. J. Michael Finley holds much weight on his shoulders for this movie and does a fantastic job portraying the roller coaster ride that was the lead singer’s life. The suffering, the naivety, the love, and the redemption all well balanced in the nearly 2 hour run time. In addition, the guys got jokes as well, helping round out a rather dynamic character. Dennis Quaid plays his usual style, but this time manages to have a little more gusto in his performance to play a character that anchors the story and actually makes you feel something for him this time. And as for the rest of the cast, they work too, but they just aren’t in the movie as much as these two.
Details: When it comes to biographies, you want all the juicy details to come to life. Well, this movie manages to succeed on this as well. You’ll get all of Bart’s life in this film, from childhood, to post graduation and beyond. The journey of the song and following his dreams is all covered in decent detail, showing the struggles and turmoil that came along the way, almost as if you were in his head. You won’t find too many loose ends here, and they keep the movie well-trimmed to keep the relevant details in the mix and the extra details left for director’s cut.
Morals and Story Balanced: In movies like this, much of the film is geared towards the religious teachings contained in the story, enough to make you feel like you are attending a big budget church production. Despite the trailers, I Can Only Imagine doesn’t feel like a church lesson for most of the movie, but instead a drama biography. With the morals baked into the story, you get a more entertaining movie that doesn’t lose the morals to cheesiness. As such, this balance kept me engaged and taking the lesson to heart instead of pushing it to the side. This is better movie making my friends.
The Final Number: You know that feeling you get when a movie comes together and delivers that climactic finish you are looking for? Well, I Can Only Imagine succeeds in bringing all this hurt, emotion, and motivation to full strength in the debut performance of the song. The performance matches the majesty of the song itself and has great cinematography and audio editing to captivate you into embracing the splendor of the performance. In my showing, it left many in tears and had the audience standing in applause with its finale. And for the limited music in this movie, the final number did deliver.
Supporting Cast Reduced: The movie is about Bart, I get it, really I do. However, the movie starts by introducing his girlfriend and best friend who supposedly helped him through a lot of struggles in his early life. Sadly, the childhood adventures are short-lived, burning out before it really took off, and the friends contributions along with it. While the girlfriend gets her fair share of integration, the best friend has little integration past a few lines. Eventually when the band is introduced, they get their fair punches in, but like the rest of the cast they too are reduced to few lines that do little but break the tension. The movie fails to establish the big relationships the real singer has, which was disappointing for me.
A Little Preachy at Times: No surprise here, the movie sometimes reaches deep into sermon territory, trading decent developed dialog, for melodramatic preaching that was a little overdone. Fortunately, these are few and far between, but the times where they start to speak were heavy-handed for me to enjoy/appreciate. I’m all about praising God, but they should have stuck with the theme of the movie and kept it consistent.
Depressing: Given how emotional this movie is, I expected this to have sad parts in the movie to help make the happy moments better. This movie though, is one giant wave of anguish and sadness, constantly battering you with a deluge of depression one minute after the other. These trials were difficult for the man, which I give him credit for surviving, but as an audience member, I needed a little more happiness and brighter components to help offset all the sadness at hand. Perhaps if the other characters were better integrated, or some more Hollywood magic was thrown in, this would have been less hard to handle. So those looking for inspiration will get it, but get ready for reality’s hard slap to come with it.
I Can Only Imagine is a powerful song, with an incredible story about its creation and execution. With a great actor to bring it to life and decent gospel-drama balance, it’s a religious person’s dream biography movie. For the most part, it avoids the preachy nature these movies tend to have and does a nice job keeping the pertinent details to tell the whole story. Yet, the movie suffers from one-man syndrome for me, reducing the supporting cast to the bare bones involvement and short sheeting the pertinent relationships. In addition, the depressing moments are hard to smile through, with most of the lighter moments dropping into those preachy sermon like moments. All-in-all though, I Can Only Imagine is a Winner in religion themed movies. Worth a trip to the theater? Tough decision, but overall, I will say yes it deserves a visit for the deep-seeded message that church may not teach you. My scores are:
Movie Overall: 7.0