Miracles from Heaven (2016) / Drama
MPAA Rated: PG for thematic material, including accident and medical images
Running Time: 109 min.
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers, Martin Henderson, Eugenio Derbez, Queen Latifah, John Carroll Lynch, Brighton Sharbino, Courtney Fansler
Director: Patricia Riggen
Screenplay: Randy Brown (based on the book, "Miracles from Heaven: A Little Girl, Her Journey to Heaven, and her Amazing Story of Healing" by Christy Beam)
Review published March 19, 2016
Coming not long after the similarly premised Heaven is for Real, which also features a child who is hospitalized and possibly encounters an afterlife experience, comes Miracles from Heaven, another entry produced by SONY's faith-friendly film studio division, Affirm Films. This is not a complete carbon copy, however, as Heaven is for Real mostly deals with the crisis of faith for a preacher after his young son relates his story about going to Heaven and meeting Jesus and relatives he never knew about, while Miracles from Heaven is mostly about the crisis of faith that happens before the event, where a mother who has a sick child with an incurable disease thinks that there may not be any God at all to help her when her continuous prayers go unanswered for her daughter to get better.
That mother is Christy Beam (Garner, Danny Collins) from Burleson, Texas, wife to hunky veterinarian Kevin (Henderson, Everest) and mother to three adorable daughters, Abbie (Sharbino, Cheap Thrills), Adelynn (Fansler) and Annabel (Rogers, Mojave), aka Anna. It's ten-year-old Anna that's the girl who becomes interminably ill, unable to keep down food and showing signs of gastrointestinal bloating that is only growing larger by the day. Doctors are perplexed by the condition and misdiagnose it as something that will pass and be unconcerned about, but Christy knows it's something more and continues to get several opinions until finally coming across someone that can help in the form of pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Samuel Nurko (Derbez, The Book of Life). The problem is that Dr. Nurko is so overbooked that there is a nine-month waiting list to see him, with his schedule only opening up when one of his patients dies. Knowing that Anna's chances to even make it nine months seem slim, Christy heads out to the children's hospital in Boston on the hope to get the only man with the possibility of helping out with a presumably incurable disease (called pseudo-obstruction motility disorder) to take Anna on as a patient.
Miracles from Heaven is directed by Patricia Riggen, who also helmed another film based on a true story in 2015, The 33, and with the same kind of embellishment that makes for a more crowd-pleasing version of events, i.e., it has kernels of truth but it isn't terribly faithful to facts. The facts, if you choose to call them as such, come from the real-life Christy Beam's personal memoirs on the events, adapted to screenplay by Randy Brown (Trouble with the Curve). There's a bit of fudging to the story, as Kevin didn't own his own veterinary hospital that put them in dire financial straits, and there was no bum-rushing of the children's hospital in Boston to get Anna in before her allotted time. It's a respectably made effort for a faith flick, featuring solid Hollywood actors and a high-gloss sheen that makes it feel every bit as good in its technical qualities as other tearjerker dramas you'll find coming out at the cinema.
While the acting deserves some kudos, especially from young Kylie Rogers, who does well capturing some of Anna's most fraught moments, and there's plenty of professional shine to the production to sell it, there are some weak elements as well. The film's forays into comedy are feeble and embarrassingly hokey, with the worst of it coming when Queen Latifah (What Happens in Vegas) appears on the scene as a kind-hearted waitress who is willing to take these new-to-town visitors on a sight-seeing tour of Boston in her rusty old jalopy. The tone of the film changing from tragedy to comedy for these scenes is jarring, and, given how little of what occurs is actually amusing, would have been put on the cutting room floor, save for the fact that Latifah has a modicum of star power to sell the film, especially beyond white Christian audiences. Faring a little better, perhaps because an actual comedian has been cast in the role, is Eugenio Derbez as the doctor in Boston (by way of Mexico) who treats his children with mirth and humor to lift their spirits, much in the way of Robin Williams in Patch Adams. In a switch from traditional Hollywood white-washing, the real-life Angela Cimino and Samuel Nurko are Caucasian, not African-American and Latino, respectively.
Although it is a film that targets devout Christians most of all, Affirm Films continues their tradition of trying to reach beyond that demographic, trying and mostly succeeding to not just preach to the choir when it comes to their stories. The film is about church-going Christians, but the story is about never giving up faith, and not in trying to tell audiences that the Christian way is the only way, and only good things will happen to those who believe. In fact, many of the 'miracles' shown in the film are from people who are not necessarily Christian, and the film even goes so far as to embrace even those people who aren't devout, while also showing that some people who go to church regularly could stand to learn a thing or two about kindness and humility. This is a kinder, gentler kind of religious film that will say plenty to those who choose to look for those lessons, but it's also potentially enjoyable for those people who may have long since set foot in a church.
While it's not nearly good enough to be the kind of movie that would garner Oscar nominations, Miracles from Heaven will likely find a receptive audience among those who enjoy faith-friendly films that give examples of life's miracles as proof that God is with is. It also will meet well for audiences who like inspirational films centered around people with illness, the kinds of which you can find on networks like Lifetime or The Hallmark Channel at least once a week, except with a bigger budget and better actors than typical TV would afford. It's a nice, likeably heartwarming tearjerker (yes, even I held back a little mist here and there, and I'm a tough sell) with a happy ending (the trailer and title gives that away), going down easy for those looking for that, and avoids the pushiness of its religious message that often make faith-based cinema so unpalatable for audiences who don't keep a Bible at the ready everywhere they go.
©2016 Vince Leo