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When I heard there was going to be a movie based on the song “I Can Only Imagine,” I thought fleetingly and mournfully of movies based on Disney World attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean or Tomorrowland. Or worse, The Country Bears. Those misgivings were wholly misplaced.

I Can Only Imagine does revolve around the song of the same title. But it’s much more than a song turned into a movie. The song, which through the early 2000s became the best-selling Christian single to date, has an interesting backstory; directors Jon and Andrew Erwin have turned that story into an engaging and inspiring film.

At the beginning we meet young Bart Millard, years before he became known as the lead singer of the Grammy-nominated Christian band MercyMe. Young Millard lived in a dysfunctional home with an abusive father. The movie shows the pain of that childhood as well as the lifeline experienced by Millard in the church, music, and Christian music in particular.

For a long time he tries to pretend that the violence he experienced at home hasn’t really affected him, but as a young adult he has to confront the toll the abuse has taken. Meanwhile, his father, Arthur, is diagnosed with cancer. Millard must come to terms with the past, but also with the man his father has become during his illness.

That famous song was the result of his experience.

Dennis Quaid gives a believably frightening yet human performance as Arthur. While actor J. Michael Finley may seem a bit old to be playing a teen, he plays the role of Bart with empathy and humor. The two men effectively portray the realities of a broken relationship as well as the power of forgiveness.

You don’t have to imagine it anymore—here’s a Christian movie that seems satisfied to tell the story and leave the sermon for Sunday morning. It doesn’t hide from the darkness and pain of abuse, yet it is full of hope for forgiveness and grace. On disc now. (Lionsgate)

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