Review of “Miracles from Heaven”

Christy and Kevin Beam (Jennifer Garner and Martin Henderson) live on a small ranch in Texas with their three daughters Abbie, Anna and Adelynn (Brighton Sharbino, Kylie Rogers and Courtney Fansler).  Ten-year old Anna has been having trouble keeping her food down and experiencing abdominal pain and swelling.  Several exams and specialists haven’t been able to figure out exactly what’s wrong with Anna until the pain becomes so severe she has to be hospitalized and a surgical procedure performed.  The doctor discovers Anna has a condition called pseudo-obstruction motility disorder.  All the food, water, even air she swallows doesn’t move through her intestines so it sits and festers causing gas, infection and constant pain.  The Beams are told there is little treatment and no cure for Anna’s condition but Dr. Nurko (Eugenio Derbez) in Boston is the leading expert in the field.  Despite not having an appointment and the waiting list for Dr. Nurko being nine months long, Christy and Anna fly to Boston to try and see him.  After being told they couldn’t see Dr. Nurko, Christy and Anna are eating dinner in the hotel restaurant when they meet a waitress named Angela (Queen Latifah) who immediately takes a liking to the mother and daughter and offers to show them around Boston.  While visiting a museum, Christy gets a call saying an appointment opened up for the next day.  Dr. Nurko playfully examines Anna but tells Christy there’s only so much he can do.  As Anna’s condition deteriorates, Christy questions her faith in God and wonders why he would let her little girl suffer so much.

“Miracles from Heaven” is considered a faith-based film; but unlike more militant entries in the genre like “God is Not Dead” or “Left Behind,” “Miracles from Heaven” prefers to deliver its message wrapped in a softer and gentler package.  Instead of treating the audience like a bunch of faithless heathens, the film prefers to assume the viewer is already acquainted with belief and open to hearing its message.  This kinder approach is aided by an excellent cast and touching, emotional story that doesn’t push religion too hard even when scenes are shown in church.  It also leaves any conclusions one might draw from the events depicted up to the audience.

Jennifer Garner is terrific as the determined yet somewhat frantic mother looking to find a treatment to end her daughter’s suffering.  Garner gives Christy Beam equal parts motherly love and mother bear protectiveness.  A scene in a hospital emergency room when Christy will not take another “she’s fine” for an answer shows how the mother bear is willing to bare her claws and make sure her cub is protected.  Garner and the script give Christy the kind of humanity that many of these films fail to provide for their main characters.  Christy has doubts, she questions where God is in all of this and wonders what His plan could possibly be that would cause her daughter so much pain.  It is a very relatable performance for anyone who has had a loved one deal with a chronic or terminal condition.  There is also friction between Christy and her husband Kevin due to financial pressures caused by his recently expanded veterinary practice as well as the stress of Anna’s illness.  None of the issues or arguments shown in the film come off as trite or shrill.  Anyone faced with equal pressures would probably crack from time to time as well and Garner performs these meltdowns with believable emotion.

Young Kylie Rogers is also excellent in the role of Anna.  She displays a maturity in the more emotional scenes that belies her youth.  One particular scene late in the movie is especially heartbreaking as Anna, exhausted from rounds of tests and suffering from abdominal pain, tells her mother she wants to die to make it all stop.  It slams the audience back in their seats to hear a child wish for death and Rogers’ performance makes us believe her words.  Rogers, who has an impressive list of acting credits considering she’s been in the business for only four years, exhibits a depth of understanding unusual for someone of her age.  She may become the kind of child superstar not seen since the early work of Elle Fanning and I am looking forward to seeing her in more projects.

The movie is based on a book of the same name written by the real Christy Beam.  I’ve not read the book other than skimming through the available sample pages on Amazon so I’m not sure exactly how closely the the film follows it; however, there is a scene in the film that I have a hard time believing occurred in real life.  After church, Christy is approached by two women and a man who question why God hasn’t healed Anna yet and suggest it may be due to some sinful behavior of Christy and Kevin’s or possibly even Anna herself.  This initiates Christy’s loss of faith as she refuses to return to church with these people.  First, I understand what her anger.  If someone questioned the character of my 10-year old daughter because she was struck with an incurable disease the congregation would have to pry my hands from around that person’s throat.  But more troubling is the screenwriters apparent need to add more conflict and emotional injury to a story that already had plenty of reason for Christy to question her belief system.  Heaping on a group of stereotypically hypocritical Christians seems unnecessary and something of a jab at Christianity itself.  While there are certainly people in probably every church who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, the way it is handled in the film feels clumsy and heavy handed.

“Miracles from Heaven” is rated PG for thematic material, including accident and medical images.  There is nothing objectionable in the film.  No alcohol or tobacco is shown being consumed and no foul language is used.  All the medical imagery is either x-rays or other diagnostic images.  The accident is a bit tense and some very young viewers might be upset.

“Miracles from Heaven” tells a very sweet story of family and faith without getting too preachy.  Some critics argue it is preaching to the choir but I believe the softer approach is probably more effective at reaching into the hearts, minds and souls of the audience.  The film never bangs you over the head with its message and even allows some room for discussion once the miracle of the title occurs.  A heartwarming and emotional story along with great performances from Jennifer Garner and Kylie Rogers make this faith-based film one you can believe in.

“Miracles from Heaven” gets four stars out of five.

It’s sure to be a big week with a couple of costumed freaks pounding away at each other along with a surprise sequel to a surprise hit from 2002.  I’ll be seeing at least one of these films.

Batman v Superman:  Dawn of Justice-

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2-

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