I Can Only Imagine

Wow! I feel like I still have tear stains on my cheeks. It grabbed me from the start and never let go!

It's the story of Bart Millard, of the band MercyMe, writing the best-selling single in Christian music history, "I Can Only Imagine." That log line falls far short of describing what this film really is. It is certainly the best biopic I have ever seen. The artistry that went into it is truly stunning. Long ago I heard a sermon by John Langlois on "The Father Heart of God." Because I have a great father it's been easy for me to see God the Father as loving, kind and encouraging, but for people without a father on the scene or for people with an abusive father that can be more of a challenge. I applaud Millard for letting his story of his journey to greater intimacy with his earthly and heavenly fathers be told in such a transparent way.

In 2013 I heard Stephen Kendrick say that the Christian film industry was still in its infancy, but babies crawl, then walk, then run, then ride bikes, then cars, then planes, then rockets. I Can Only Imagine is a formula 500 race car! The scriptwriting (Alex Cramer's story adapted for screen by Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle) is precision tuned. The team made all the right decisions when it comes to what to show and what to reference. The actors (cast by our friend Beverly Holloway) pull everything off with a depth of emotion that reaches right out of the screen.

Bev turned her sights to Broadway so they could find someone with the acting/singing combo they needed to represent Millard on screen and found J. Michael Finley. Jon Erwin showed his chops as a director, pulling Finley from Jean Valjean, filling an almost 1500 seat house, to his first film demanding a full range of nuanced emotions from giddy fanboy to wounded boy-man to healed phenom.

Jason Burkey and I
protecting our costumes
on the set of
The Screenwriters.
I was jazzed to see Jason Burkey (who performed with me in For the Glory and The Screenwriters) playing MercyMe guitarist, Michael John Scheuchzer. The son of Jeff Rose (who performed opposite me in The Unexpected Bar Mitzvah) played young Bart Millard beautifully. Cloris Leachman brought spark to her roles as Millard's Memaw and inspiration for the band's name. Madeline Carroll brought a deeply compelling subplot to life playing Millard's sweetheart from childhood. Ethan and Ashley Ledden, who have worked with me on five films, did supervised the special effects. We didn't notice many, which speaks to their consistently great work!

But the real MVP is Dennis Quaid, playing Millard's abusive father, who is transformed through a relationship with Jesus Christ. His baby steps into Scripture reading, prayer and being a good father are at once charming and heart-wrenching. I haven't read any secular reviews yet (though The Hollywood Reporter was "impressed" by it making $1.3M before opening today), but since there are no artistic flaws to be found (The New York Times passed on a review), my guess is that those brave enough to review something of excellence that doesn't fit their worldview will take aim at the life-transformation. How can you explain away someone's true story? My bride was told by a colleague that her changed life was the first miracle the woman had ever seen, so I'm praying the world will receive what Jesus Christ can really do in a life as it is depicted in this wonderful film.

While there is enough violence for Millard's description of his father as a monster to ring true, most of that came through verbal descriptions, and the actual depictions of violence were brief and tastefully done.

Everyone in our theatre on Times Square prayed for the film afterward. One gentleman pointed out that there is no vulgarity. What a refreshing surprise to find a team creative enough to give a full sense of a monster without scarring us.

One of the things that has stayed with me from that "Father Heart of God" sermon I heard over 15 years ago: Whether we have or had a great, absent or abusive earthly father, we can use our perceptions of him to help us imagine a perfect Heavenly Father. He is always there for us, gave us our dreams and callings and will encourage and empower us to live them out for His glory. This film does just that, and I hope people are remembering its impact decades from now.

Parents should know:
It's rated PG for themes of abuse and alcoholism, and Dove.org recommends it to children 12 and up.

You can click below to watch the trailer, a piece on Dennis Quaid's Christian faith and a brand new music video of the song "I Can Only Imagine." If you got this in an email visit www.RichDrama.com/ICanOnlyImagine.

There are still openings for the 2018 Rocky Mountain Christian Filmmakers Camp.

No comments: