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Christian-themed entertainment, especially in film, TV and music, is a booming sector in the US. However, not much of the stuff has made it out of the most niche distribution circles in the UK, so the breadth of nationwide exposure here for this particular faith-based work is noteworthy in itself.
That probably can be at least partly accounted for by the breakout popularity of the song which gives the film its name, I Can Only Imagine, by pious pop combo MercyMe. It’s an undeniably catchy country- and indie-flecked ditty, written by the band’s lead singer Bart Millard, whose life story forms the narrative spine of this slickly assembled tale of redemption and reconciliation.
Born into a working-class Texan family, as a child (Brody Rose) young Bart seeks solace in music from the physical and psychological abuse meted out by his bitter, alcoholic dad (Dennis Quaid in a moving, career-reviving turn). When in high school, Bart (now played by Broadway actor J Michael Finley) injures himself on the field so badly he’ll never play American football again, the only pursuit his one-time jock dad respects. However, he gets into his high-school glee club and the church choir. There he finds recognition of his fine singing voice and emotional support, particularly from girlfriend Shannon (Madeline Carroll). A row with Dad sets him off on the road, where he joins a band and plugs away in time-honoured musical biopic fashion, only to ultimately retuen home for a reunion with his dying father, who was led to Jesus in the intervening time.
For all the faith-based platitudes baked into the script, it has to be conceded that directing brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin steer the ship steadily and draw out sincere and persuasive performances from Finley, who really can sing gloriously well, and Quaid, who even with a now ravaged visage is still just as dangerous, compelling and sexy as ever.
It almost succeeded in seducing even this atheistic leftie viewer until the last seconds, when it blew it with a pre-credits revelation. It seems lucky Millard got to share his story and sing on stage for “the president, vice president [that would be Donald Trump and Mike Pence], members of the House and Congress, and world leaders” last year at the National Prayer Breakfast, as if that’s the equivalent of winning the Nobel prize, which perhaps in a way it is among rightwing Christian Americans.
Source: The Guardian
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