When Football Can’t Save Dreams, Faith Will
A REVIEW OF THE MOVIE, I CAN ONLY IMAGINE
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.