Review: Miracles From Heaven
PLOT: A devoutly Christian woman (Jennifer Garner) has a crisis of faith when her ten-year-old daughter (Kylie Rogers) is stricken with a deadly, incurable disease.
REVIEW: MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN is the latest release from Sony Affirm, a boutique division of the studio which is experimenting with making Christian films for mainstream audiences. A few weeks ago, their Resurrection story, RISEN, opened to decent reviews while this week’s MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN tries to take this dip into the mainstream one-step further by enticing a well-known star, in this case Jennifer Garner, to play the lead.
The result is a movie which is less a hybrid Christian/mainstream film than the trailers might have you believe. While it’s a far cry from hardcore Christian movies like WAR ROOM or GOD’S NOT DEAD, no effort is made to pretend this is anything other than a movie aimed at devout, church-going Christians. That said, it does try to make Garner’s on-screen faith more accessible to a wide audience and shoot down some nasty stereotypes, with an early scene having her poke fun at a mom who thinks Disneyland is run by Satan, and another scene later when her laid-back pastor (John Carroll Lynch) tries to comfort her after churchgoers accuse her of making her daughter sick by not having enough faith. In that way, this is aimed at a somewhat broader base than usual, but even if one were to take away all the religious elements, you’d still have a treacly medical melodrama that tries to tug at the heartstrings and plays out like an extended Lifetime cable movie.
Right-off the bat, Garner’s Christy Beam lives a life that seems right out of a Nicholas Sparks novel (although a glimpse in the film’s epilogue shows that the real Beam family does indeed seem to live this kind of postcard Americana life). Her three girls are whip-smart, thoughtful and unselfish, while her handsome husband (Martin Henderson) is so swell a guy that he brings home all the dogs he’d normally have to put down at his veterinary practice, when not proudly displaying his six-pack abs to his wife. As for Garner’s character, she seems free of any flaws that would make her human, always looking like she stepped out of a photo spread from O Magazine, while constantly flashing her megawatt Hollywood smile.
Once her daughter gets sicks, you start to see why Garner took the part as she does indeed convincingly portray a desperate, concerned mom and the scenes in which she agonizes over her daughter’s condition are the best in the film. However, as effective as this is, the movie is shot in the foot by the extreme two-dimensional portrayal of all the other characters, particularly Henderson, whose constant assurances that it’ll all work out as long as they have faith are maddening. The same goes for Queen Latifah’s sassy diner waitress, who I’m almost convinced is actually supposed to be an angel (her name is Angela, get it?) sent to give Garner and her daughter a strong shoulder to cry on. Of all of them, Eugenio Derbez probably fares the best as being the child’s doctor, he’s the only one in the film not constantly telling Garner to have faith in God.
If you’ve seen the trailers or know the true story behind this, you’ll get that apparently divine intervention played a role in the girl’s fate as per the title, but this is actually only the last fifteen or so minutes of the film. Even still, it’s clear the message here is that yes, God really did work a miracle without any room for ambiguity whatsoever, and that’s fine as this is definitely for a specific audience and they deserve well-made movies of their own just as a non-religious audience does.
As such, reviewing a movie like this is tricky as the family Christian audience this is made for will probably enjoy it. However, as a crossover film MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN will not have much appeal as it’s alternately too preachy and too clichéd. Even still, Affirm at least gives it’s outings some craft and skill (courtesy of THE 33’s Patrica Riggen) and while this is too generic a vehicle for her talents, Garner is quite good and deserves stronger material.