In March of 2018, everyone at my Church started talking about a new movie based on the MercyMe hit song. I was skeptical for two reasons. One, my experience is that Christians are so starving for content that they’ll eat ground round and say it tastes like filet mignon. Two, every time I asked someone why they liked the movie, all they talked about was the song. The song is amazing. The movie is not. It’s ground round and it’s not prepared very well.
In a film filled with stereotypes, one-dimensional performances, and unexplored storylines, J. Michael Finley, who looks distractingly like a young Seth Rogen, earns his first IMDB credit by playing Bart Millard, the lead singer of MercyMe. Unfortunately, Finley just seems lost throughout the film and his performance pales in comparison to the far more experienced Dennis Quaid as the stereotypical, alcoholic father. Though believable, Quaid's performance is limited by the script from Alex Cramer, Jon Erwin (co-director), and Brent McCorkle, that provides little explanation for the anger of the father or his eventual transition.
What we get from I Can Only Imagine, which Lionsgate made available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital on June 12, is a vague story of a somewhat lost kid who is not only found, but finds a song that impacts more than he ever imagined. A nice story that is poorly executed and leaves us with too many questions. What caused dad to get so bitter? What happened to the band when Bart left? At the end of the movie we see a family photo; where was the brother throughout the film?
Technically, things are not much better. The sound quality is distracting as is the handheld camera work. When the camera is finally locked onto a dolly, it is used like a kid with a new toy, which spoils the film's finale. One could easily defend the production, which operated on a $7 million budget but ultimately, it’s not necessary since the film has cleared over $80 million in the U.S. Clearly, many people found it appetizing.
For those who enjoyed this meal, the new release is full of three hours of extra snacks. The short documentary “MercyMe The Early Years” is almost as unfulfilling as the movie. No depth here and the content seems to contradict the film as to how the group came together. “Imagine Forgiveness with Bart Millard” provides little new insight and is subsequently redundant. J. Michael Finley may not be the strongest actor, but he can sing. His rendition of "I Can Only Imagine" is arguably better than that of Millard. Included in the bonus material, Dennis Quad introduces his own song and illustrates what a great actor he is. Audio commentary, deleted scenes, the rest of the music in the movie, and The Power of the Song round out the contents of the pantry.
Recommendation: I can only imagine what an experience it would have been had the film been as good as the song. It’s an amazingly powerful song. Unfortunately, the movie is not. If the film impacted you in a positive way, that’s great. Ultimately, we deserved better and so did the song.