This is the true story of Bart Millard, the lead singer for the Christian band Mercy Me. At the age of 10, Bart’s mom leaves to get away from his physically abusive father, leaving Bart alone with a monster. Bart tries to please his father by following in his footsteps and becoming a football player but an injury ends his athletic career. Struggling to find a new direction, Bart ends up in the drama department at school where he discovers he has a talent for singing. When Bart lands the lead in a production of Oklahoma he doesn’t tell his father because he believes his father won’t be interested. This leads to a physical confrontation with his father that is the last straw for Bart. Bart ends up leaving home not knowing that his father has been diagnosed with cancer. He not only walks away from his father, but he also leaves behind his long-time girlfriend Shannon.
Bart ends up singing in a band called Mercy Me and struggles to find his voice as a singer-songwriter. His manager Scott Brickell ends up pushing Bart toward confronting his relationship with his father, and Bart travels back home to tie up the loose ends. In so doing, Bart discovers his father has found God and is dying of cancer. Bart and his father work their way through an emotional reconnection and in the end find a loving relationship. It is this experience that inspires Bart to write one of the most popular Christian songs of all time, “I Can Only Imagine.”
I have to start by calling out Randy Quaid’s performance as the abusive, emotionally disturbed, jerk father as an absolutely academy award performance. He is the evil villain that drives this story and he does a suburb job. I have to admit I didn’t believe it was possible to build a whole story around one song, but I was wrong. In the film, Bart reveals it only took him about ten minutes to write the lyrics, and Amy Grant corrects him by suggesting that song took a lifetime to write – and of course she’s right. This is a story about what it takes to conjure up a song that touches the heart of millions. This is a story about how the creative process is married to the struggle of life. It’s an inspiring tale the delivers the emotional satisfaction needed to make the finale performance of “I Can Only Image” as powerful as the first time I heard it. Awesome!