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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that I Can Only Imagine is a faith-based drama about the inspiration behind the titular song, which became the best-selling contemporary Christian single of all time. The story follows MercyMe singer Bart Millard's turbulent upbringing with an abusive father, as well as how his father's eventual conversion story inspired the breakout hit. There's some heavy material involving Millard's father's emotional and physical abuse, as well as a sad (but expected) death and the exploration of grief and personal faith. Christian families who see the film will likely be familiar with the song and will appreciate the movie's messages of redemption and salvation, as well as its themes of compassion, gratitude, and integrity.
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What's the story?
I CAN ONLY IMAGINE is a faith-based drama about what inspired contemporary Christian musician Bart Millard of MercyMe to write the band's best-selling 2001 song. The movie begins with internationally acclaimed artist Amy Grant (played by Nicole DuPort), who's considering using the song "I Can Only Imagine" as a "comeback hit," asking Bart (J. Michael Finley) to tell her how he came up with it. At first Bart jokes that he wrote it quickly, in about 10 minutes, but Amy insists that a song so godly and personal had to take a lot longer to create. Bart then flashes back to his youth and his angry, abusive father, Arthur (Dennis Quaid). As a teen, Bart hopes to make his dad happy by playing football, but an injury forces Bart to quit the team and take chorus instead. Bart's teacher thinks he has a future in music, but Arthur is convinced he's not good enough to fulfill such lofty dreams. After high school, Bart attempts to gig with his new band, MercyMe, but when he discovers that Arthur has cancer, Bart changes course. As an aging, dying Arthur seeks to mend his relationship with Bart, he also begins to believe in God and change for the better -- for the first time Bart can remember.
Is it any good?
Christian music fans will be touched by this poignant origin story of a beloved song, which is portrayed with warmth and openness. "I Can Only Imagine" is the No. 1 Christian single of all time, so there's likely a large audience ready to dive into Bart's story. Even though it's clear from the beginning that there will be a happy, hopeful ending, directors Jon and Andrew Erwin make sure viewers know that Bart's inspiration for the ballad -- his relationship with his father -- was complicated and unhealthy. Arthur can be cruel, and the movie doesn't shy away from how difficult it was for Bart to forgive his dad and move forward with the dream to become a singer.
Finley does a fine job channeling Bart's nuanced personality, both his enthusiasm and charisma, as well as his insecurity and anger. Finley is also good at conveying Bart's humor. As Bart's girlfriend (and wife to be) Shannon, actress Madeline Carroll is ably patient, waiting for Bart to confide in her about what's going on at home. Aficionados of contemporary Christian music will also enjoy the shout-outs to and portrayals of various famous singers, like Grant and Michael W. Smith, as well as seeing country artist Trace Adkins play MercyMe's veteran Nashville manager. The movie will likely resonate with anyone interested in music-based biopics or father-son dramas, but it will probably appeal most to evangelical churchgoers and those familiar with the touching song.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about I Can Only Imagine's messages about parent-child relationships, romantic relationships, and faith. How are the characters impacted by their relationships?
What do you think the song lyrics mean? How do they affect those grieving the loss of loved ones?
Who do you think the movies' target audience is? Do you think only practicing Christians will enjoy or understand the film? Why or why not?
- In theaters: March 16, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: June 12, 2018
- Cast: Dennis Quaid, Cloris Leachman, J. Michael Finley
- Directors: Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Music and Sing-Along
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Gratitude, Integrity
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements including some violence
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