When Foot­ball Can’t Save Dreams, Faith Will

A RE­VIEW OF THE MOVIE, I CAN ONLY IMAG­INE

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - SPORTS - MARK HUMPHREY IS A SPORTS WRITER FOR THE ENTERPRISELEADER. Mark Humphrey Game Jour­nal

Some­times par­ents can think their child mak­ing it in a par­tic­u­lar sport mat­ters more than any­thing else.

Re­cov­er­ing from an ac­ci­dent and eight weeks in a coma, Arthur Mil­lard slipped into that rut. He had played col­lege foot­ball and wanted the same for his son, Bart, but Arthur’s anger dom­i­nated his re­la­tion­ships.

Ten-year-old Bart goes from the best week of his life to the worst day of his life.

Youth­ful trauma from a real life story plays out on the big screen in the movie I Can Only Imag­ine based on the No. 1 sell­ing Chris­tian song of all-time by Mer­cyMe.

It’s easy to un­der­stand why Bart writes in his jour­nal, “Best week of my life,” as he re­flects on a week at church camp on the bus ride home. He ex­pe­ri­ences what makes every boy’s heart skip a beat at a ten­der age when he ac­ci­den­tally dis­cov­ers a girl (young Shan­non, played by Tae­gen Burns) has a crush on him af­ter her jour­nal flies open and he sees his name writ­ten on the pages of her heart.

Even more won­der­ful to Bart’s self-es­teem is Shan­non’s courage to re­veal she be­lieves they are des­tined to fall in love and get mar­ried some day. This is the po­lar op­po­site of what he hears at home.

His rag­ing fa­ther, Arthur, is a para­dox, hurl­ing words like spears, beat­ing both the boy and his mother, then re­coil­ing with in­ner, un­ex­pressed re­gret af­ter each out­burst.

In one scene, Arthur, played by Den­nis Quaid, tells young Bart, played by Brody Rose, “Dreams don’t pay the bills. Noth­ing good comes from them. All it does is keep­ing you from know­ing what is real.”

Re­turn­ing home from church camp young Bart dis­cov­ers his mom can’t take any more abuse and has aban­doned the fam­ily. Movers load her be­long­ings into a truck and take off.

Right­eous in­dig­na­tion wells up in­side young Bart. Out­raged he at­tacks his fa­ther.

“What did you do to her?” Bart de­mands.

He is eas­ily over­pow­ered and seems doomed to a fate he feels pow­er­less to change re­treat­ing in­side him­self while us­ing foot­ball — the only thing his dad seems in­ter­ested in — to con­ceal his deep emo­tional wounds.

“She don’t want me any­more…she don’t want you any­more,” Arthur says.

The essence of the film is two-fold: ex­am­in­ing how to for­give the per­son, who dam­ages one’s self­worth, crushes the spirit, and per­pet­u­ally squashes their as­pi­ra­tions; and what hap­pens when that per­son sud­denly starts to be­lieve in the dreams he once tried to squelch.

An in­jury ends his foot­ball ca­reer and Bart, by then a teenager played by J. Michael Fin­ley, is forced to choose an­other elec­tive. He winds up in Glee Club en­coun­ter­ing a teacher, Mrs. Fincher, played by Priscilla C. Shirer, who chal­lenges Bart to ex­plore his singing voice giv­ing him the male lead in a school mu­si­cal, Ok­la­homa.

Bart never tells his fa­ther, who learns of his son’s star­ring role from a brochure in a lo­cal restau­rant. This leads to a con­fronta­tion. Bart, who is now phys­i­cally larger, tells his dad he is too old to be beaten and de­clines a break­fast pre­pared by Arthur.

Arthur re­acts by tak­ing the plate and walk­ing away, then smash­ing it against the back of an un­sus­pect­ing Bart’s head.

“You’re crazy…I’m done with you,” Bart says and leaves home. He lashes out alien­at­ing a grown-up Shan­non, played by Made­line Car­roll, telling her he never loved her — although the two have been sweet­hearts since their en­counter at church camp.

Bart be­comes lead vo­cal­ist for a trav­el­ing Chris­tian band, per­pet­u­ally on tour with all mem­bers “tech­ni­cally con­sid­ered home­less,” ac­cord­ing to the movie sound­track.

In his new­found life, Bart sup­presses anger, hurt, and re­jec­tion, but he can’t fool ev­ery­body. Af­ter a failed au­di­tion in Nashville, the band’s man­ager, Scott Brick­ell, played by Coun­try star Trace Ad­kins, tells Bart he is not real 100 per­cent of the time.

“Bart, what are you run­ning from?” Brick­ell asks.

Bart strug­gles to re­ply, “My dad. He, uh, he…”

“…he beat you, didn’t he? Ya ain’t got no poker face kid,” Brick­ell said.

“I carry that,” Bart said. “I have to live with that, you know. I al­ways will.”

Brick­ell ad­min­is­ters ca­reer ad­vice telling Bart, “Then write about it. Stop run­ning from it. Let that pain be­come your in­spi­ra­tion.”

This is the crux of the story.

Bart re­turns home to Greenville, Texas, and learns his fa­ther has been di­ag­nosed with ter­mi­nal can­cer.

The rest of the movie deals with Bart’s at­tempts to rec­on­cile with his fa­ther, him­self, and Shan­non. Along the way he has been in­tro­duced to Chris­tian record­ing artists Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. Each plays a role in the out­come.

At var­i­ous points in Bart’s jour­ney divine in­ter­ven­tion steers him to­wards des­tiny. Arthur’s change of heart prompts him to set money aside so that Bart can chase his dream of break­ing into the mu­sic in­dus­try as a record­ing artist.

It’s a true-to-life tale of the re­demp­tion of a once con­trol­ling fa­ther, who casts off the Darth Vader syn­drome.

The theme of the movie might very well be, if foot­ball can’t save your dreams, faith in God will — when you learn to co­op­er­ate and dis­cover his plan.

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