The title Miracles from Heaven has already made up your mind whether you’re going to see this movie or not. If you subscribe to that particular strain of Christian belief that God actively intervenes in our daily lives and performs wonders to serve His purposes, you’ll find this to be a powerfully uplifting drama. If you don’t, you’ll find this to be a slog that reduces a real-life Burleson family’s experiences to pablum and fails to convey the wonders of God’s creation to nonbelievers. The woman who was sitting three seats from me at the screening and bawling through the whole last hour was in that first camp. As you’ve undoubtedly guessed, I’m in the second.
The movie is based on a memoir written by Christy Beam, which I didn’t get a chance to read. Jennifer Garner stars as Christy, whose life we join in 2011, when she’s a mother raising three daughters while her husband Kevin (Martin Henderson) has just leveraged his life savings to open a large-animal veterinary clinic. It leaves them in poor financial shape to cope when middle daughter Anna (Kylie Rogers) is diagnosed with a neurological disorder that leaves her unable to digest food, threatening her life and subjecting her to constant pain. While her daughter fights to survive, Christy struggles with her faith, wondering why God would inflict such suffering on an innocent young girl.
Don’t look for local landmarks in this movie. It was shot in Atlanta. The director is Patricia Riggen, who, in previous films on secular subjects like Girl in Progress and The 33, has shown a tendency to hammer home emotional points that might have been better served with a more delicate touch. As you might expect, religion does not bring out her best side. Her heavy-handedness cheapens what should be a horrible moment when Anna, writhing through yet another painful night, tells her mom that she wants to die. Riggen subjects Garner to an unrelenting series of close-up shots in which she weeps over her ailing daughter. The lead actress is altogether too well-mannered for the role of a woman raging at God and her narrow-minded fellow churchgoers. She needed a bit of the righteous anger she showed in Dallas Buyers Club or even Danny Collins.
Supporting players like Queen Latifah and John Carroll Lynch help lighten the mood. Eugenio Derbez, a comedy superstar in Mexico and a fixture in Riggen’s English-language films, brings his assured and offbeat rhythms to the part of a pediatrician who entertains his young patients as well as treating them. These are good to have, but they don’t make the movie good. Miracles from Heaven concludes with Christy, her family improbably and astonishingly made whole, addressing her church and telling us that the Lord’s own miracles are all around us and sometimes the banalities of everyday existence make us lose sight of them. She’s right. The trouble is, movies like this one contribute to the banality.
[box_info]Miracles from Heaven.
Starring Jennifer Garner and Kylie Rogers. Directed by Patricia Riggen. Written by Randy Brown, based on Christy Beam’s memoir. Rated PG.[/box_info]