To call the Erwin Brothers’ cloying, sociopathic new film I Can Only Imagine “based on the inspiring true story” is a new low. Because there’s no way you’re getting me to believe that this all happened the way they claim.
Ostensibly concerned with the formation of Christian rock band Mercy Me and the writing of their 2001 single “I Can Only Imagine,” the film veers so far off course that I could barely believe my eyes. Bart Millard (played, somehow, from ages 16-30 by J. Michael Finley) lives with an abusive father (Dennis Quaid, A Dog’s Purpose), though we never see any abuse. His mother runs away, though we never learn why, leaving the kid to fend for himself against his evil dad. The kid is given an Amy Grant tape, which changes his life, though we never once see him listening to that tape. He grows up and meets his future bandmates in a scene so confusing that I honestly thought it would go on a beat longer to reveal it was somehow a joke. But anyway they write this kind of boring song about how great it’s going to be when we’re all finally dead, Amy Grant anoints them Christian Rock Royalty, and they sell millions of records.
But all that is more or less beside the point because I don’t believe a word of it. Not that I think it’s improbable that the band came to fame and fortune the way they did. No, more specifically, I don’t believe Bart found a note that said “I Love Bart” and he then fell in love with that girl at age 10 and that they’re still together. I don’t believe that Bart doesn’t know why his mother left. I don’t believe that every record label in Nashville told Bart “you’re not good enough” and that he then had a nervous breakdown, went home and forgave his father — now dying of cancer — and they had a happy relationship until the old man kicked.
And I certainly don’t believe that Bart finally got his inspiration to write the title song after looking through his own notebook and realizing he’d scrawled the phrase “I can only imagine” in the margins of every single page like a serial killer. Did he somehow forget that he’d been writing that phrase on every page of his notebook for what looks like the last few months if not years? Nope. None of that happened. This is more than dramatic license here. This is a man’s entire life, and this movie is lying to you from start to finish. But it’s so uplifting! So inspirational!
But more than that, I have absolutely had it with these so-called faith-based films that are consistently pushing this agenda of radical forgiveness when it comes to abuse narratives. Why are we supposed to be forgiving these people, again? Life is way too short. Move on. If Dennis Quaid spent years beating up my mom — but, again, I can only imagine, because the film gives us nothing — and he then smashed a plate over the back of my head … well, that’s not something I’m forgiving any time soon. Grow a spine, Bart.
Rated PG for thematic elements including some violence.
Now playing at AMC River Hills Classic 10, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.