Art in all of its forms has the ability to invoke emotion, transport you to a different time and of course inspire. But art is also subjective; not everything is going to affect the same audience in the same way, and not all artists will find an audience at all. Yet, no matter how many people tell someone to give up, a true artist — one who believes in their work and in the message they are trying to convey through their art — will never let anyone keep them from speaking their mind or pursuing their dreams. As an artist myself, I know my passion isn’t about fame, money or power; it’s about speaking a truth among a sea of voices reaching out to convey their own truths — their own souls. I also know that it only takes one moment, one song, one book, one movie to pull you from obscurity and into the public consciousness.
For Mercy Me, one of the most famous Christian rock bands of the 21st Century, that song was lead singer Bart Millard’s “I Can Only Imagine,” which took not only Christian radio by storm, but the world with its honest, inspiring lyrics, opening doors for the band that had all but been closed to them before.
Based on the story behind the song, I Can Only Imagine follows the journey Bart took to find the strength to write the song and put context and meaning behind the beautiful words he wrote. Growing up with an abusive father (Dennis Quaid), Bart (played by J. Michael Finley and Brody Rose (at a young age)), does everything he can to bury the truth. He keeps his father away from those he loves; he keeps his girlfriend, Shannon (Madeline Carroll) away from his house, and when he can’t take the abuse any longer, he hightails it out of town without ever looking back. But when a chance meeting leads to a gig as the lead singer of a band, everything changes, not only for Bart, but everyone who took a chance on him, including his reluctant manager, Brickell (Trace Adkins)
Finley is quite good as the beaten Bart, conveying a broken spirit that won’t allow him to truly find his voice. His performance is only bolstered by an impressive supporting cast that heightens each note of Bart’s heartfelt story with beautiful strokes of inspiration. No matter how large or small the role, each actor fills their character with enough depth or charisma, most notably Quaid, who showcases a brute force that is so conflicted by everything he’s lost that it’s hard to watch this man come to terms with his demons while succumbing to them at the same time. One moment in particular, when Quaid breaks down listening to his son sing, is small, but quite devastating.
Everyone involved does their job to enhance what’s truly important, which is the message behind the film. I have no doubt that directors Andrew and Jon Erwin took plenty of liberties in telling this story, but what film “based on a true story” doesn’t? The point they’re trying to get across is in how Bart got to a place where he could write this particular song. As Brickell tells him at one point (and I’m paraphrasing here), art isn’t just about doing something or running through the motions. To truly connect with an audience, there has to be a strong core of truth behind it, and until you’re able to get past the fear of connecting with that truth and conveying that to the audience (essentially giving a piece of yourself to the world), no one will ever see you as anything but a fraud, no matter how big or small you may be.
The film isn’t perfect, but what piece of art is? Every beat of the story is created with an earnest precision, doing everything it needs to draw out the right emotion at the right time. Whether it’s tears of joy, tears of sadness, tears of inspiration or the occasional laugh to warm those tears, the Erwin’s pull at your heartstrings like master artists. And don’t think for a second that by saying this makes the film a downer; it’s so far from that. The Erwin’s make sure to keep everything light and airy, even as the world crumbles, giving off a sense that, yes, things may be quite dour, but there’s hope in every corner of sadness, so long as you’re willing to seek it out and accept it.
The world can be a very bitter place, especially in the times we currently live, where vitriol and politics have all but divided us all, so it’s a breath of fresh air to have a piece of art come to life to inspire everyone to keep pursuing their dreams no matter how bad things may feel. No matter how many people in your life tell you to give up on your dreams and settle for reality, don’t ever allow that mindset to win. The more you push, the more you let your heart go where it wants, the more chances you have to break through the noise and deliver your truth to the world in the way you want. It doesn’t matter if it inspires a million people or just one – your voice matters (or will matter) to someone. Listen to your heart and never let fear keep you from speaking your truth.
My Grade: A
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Next week, new movies include Pacific Rim: Uprising, Sherlock Gnomes, Midnight Sun, Unsane and Paul, Apostle of Christ. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.