Year Released: 2018
Directed by: Jon Erwin, Andrew Erwin
Starring: Michael Finley, Dennius Quaid, Madeline Carroll ,Trace Adkins
(PG, 110 min.)
Genre: Drama, Kids and Family
“You didn’t write this song in ten minutes. It took a lifetime.” Amy Grant
It’s labeled a Christian movie, but just like the titled song, I Can Only Imagine, the film breaks through genre barriers to reach out to all audiences. And in that way this wonderful film, in its own subtle way, is subversive.
Perhaps that’s why in the capital of the Lone Star state, this true Texas story about the making of the best selling Christian single of all time does not even rate a review in The Austin Chronicle.
And it is panned by many critics who did review it:
Like so many faith-based efforts, I Can Only Imagine suffers from a terminal case of self-importance. Frank Scheck
(Unlike the reviewer, of course.)
This is an interesting idea, executed with a reductive, tin-eared understanding of what constitutes art to go along with a faith-based movie's reductive, tin-eared understanding of what constitutes entertainment. Jesse Hassenger
(Surely, only magnificent critics like Jesse understand what constitutes art.)
Or damned with faint praise and sneering condescension:
Works best for fans of the song or of Christian music in general, but it has enough relatable, not-too-cheesy drama for some crossover appeal. Eric D. Snider
We can’t have those “faith-based” films unseating the effete community of critics who see themselves as gatekeepers to the film world, warding away the great unwashed. This film not only shows religion in a positive light, it also rebounds with characters with Southern accents who are likeable, complex, and intelligent.
Of course, they couldn’t do this without fine actors. Dennis Quaid puts in a tremendous performance as the abusive father of the would-be songwriter, Bart Millard. We get some glimpses of the physical violence, but Quaid excels in making his comments even more painful. Perhaps it’s the way he throws the lines away, never really yelling, just letting the meaning of the caustic words do their own damage:
"Dreams don’t pay the bills. Nothing good ever comes from it."
Trace Adkins, a country music icon, plays savvy Christian music producer Scott Brickell. His acting has none of that – “You all know me. I’m already famous, so I can read a few lines and you will love it” – mediocrity that we have come to expect from the likes of Willy Nelson on screen. Except that as an actor Nelson would have to up his performance several levels to move up to mediocre.
Adkins has a presence on screen. Tall and lean, with a silver pony tail, he paces in the balcony when he first hears Bart. He is at once cynical and hard to impress, honest and yet encouraging. He slays Bart with the truth, yet leaves a door open:
“I don’t always believe in your music but I believe in you.”
Michael Finley as Bart Millard makes his screen debut here, but he is anything but inexperienced, having made his Broadway debut in Les Miserables in 2014. He has a great voice with the power to bring the emotion and meaning of lyrics to life. Best of all, he lets us see hints of the raging emotions battling for control beneath Bart's calm exterior.
Perhaps one reason that both the song and the film resonate with audiences is that they speaks to all of us. I Can Only Imagine is about love and loss, rejection and persistence, and most of all, redemption.
I can remember when many American films put men and women of faith center screen, such as Going My Way (1944), The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945), The Ten Commandments (1956), Becket (1964), A Man for All Seasons(1966), Jesus Christ Superstar (1973). They were marketed to whole movie going public, not designated “Faith Based” or “Christian films.”
Now secularism reigns, and Hollywood mostly shows religious people as hypocrites, evil, or at least mildly deranged. Positive religious films are only allowed in the periphery, in the faith-based ghetto, so to speak.
I Can Only Imagine dares to bring religion back into the mainstream and its box office records are both a surprise and a threat to a film culture that sells nihilism and comic book fantasies and not much else in between.
Be subversive and go see this fine film. You won’t regret it.
A certain sign that Arthur Millard is not the same “monster” his son remembers is the breakfast he cooks for him. The table is set with flowers at the center, and Bart’s father is happily fussing in the kitchen. Maybe it’s to ease the early awkwardness between them that he talks about cooking the Italian Omelet, called a frittata. “The secret is getting the pan hot before you add anything, “he says. Things do not go well, however, and Bart leaves before touching his breakfast.
Forgiving someone is not easy. But cooking this delicious Bacon and Potato Frittata is not nearly so hard. Hey, even Texans can’t help but love Italian cooking. And this Italian Texan shoiuld know.
Bacon and Potato Frittata
6 slices bacon, chopped
1 potato, peeled and sliced into thin 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons water, or as needed
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped
8 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. Set oven rack about 6 inches from the heat source and preheat the oven's broiler.
2. Cook and stir bacon in a large oven-proof skillet over medium heat until evenly browned and crispy, about 10 minutes. Drain all but 1 teaspoon bacon grease from the skillet.
3. Stir potato slices, water, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, and black pepper into bacon; cover the skillet with a lid and cook until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.
4. Mix Swiss chard into potato mixture; cook and stir until chard is slightly wilted, 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Pour eggs over potato-chard mixture, stir gently, and remove skillet from heat. Top egg mixture with Parmesan cheese.
6. Broil in the preheated oven until eggs are set and frittata is golden brown around the edges, 3 to 4 minutes.