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Review: Miracles from Heaven (2016)

Miracles from Heaven (2016)

Directed by: Patricia Riggen

Premise: Based on the memoir by Christy Beam. As a young girl suffers from an incurable medical disorder, her family’s faith is put to the test.
What Works: Miracles from Heaven is made for a specific audience seeking a specific kind of experience. The movie delivers that. This film is sentimental and full of montages of sick children and worried parents set to music about family and faith. For viewers who like that sort of thing, the movie provides it in abundance. For everyone else there is a likable and engaging family drama in Miracles from Heaven. When a child becomes seriously ill it takes a toll on the entire family and Miracles from Heaven is mostly focused on that impact. The story unfolds from the point of view of the mother played by Jennifer Garner. The actress is very good in this part. She convincingly plays a beleaguered parent and her loss and reclamation of faith is mostly credible. The film does a good job of keeping this grounded. The family begins from a precarious position, having used the equity in their home to pay for the husband’s new agricultural business, and when their youngest daughter gets sick the entire family is thrown into chaos. Everyone suffers and they suffer through it together and the parents and their children have a credible familial relationship. The movie does not sugarcoat the pain that this child is put through and actress Kylie Rogers is impressive as the sickly daughter. The child has some intense scenes and Rogers plays her part convincingly. The filmmakers handle the religious themes well. Religious pictures often make the mistake of bludgeoning the audience with a faith-affirming message but Miracles from Heaven doesn’t do that. Faith is an important part of this family’s life and the movie presents it respectfully and as a framework to understand these events. The film is about the struggle to maintain faith in a beneficent god in the presence of suffering and Miracles from Heaven has a mostly mature take on that conflict. This film doesn’t simply suggest that terminal illnesses can be prayed away and in the course of her treatment the daughter encounters other sick children who aren’t saved by a miracle. How viewers feel about the message of Miracles from Heaven will ultimately depend on what they bring to it but the film is not obnoxious like War Room or God’s Not Dead

What Doesn’t: If you’ve seen the trailer for Miracles from Heaven, then you have essentially seen the entire movie. It’s unfair to fault the filmmakers for the spoilers of the promotional campaign but the fact is that audiences seeing Miracles from Heaven during its theatrical release won’t even be a little bit surprised by the story. Miracles from Heaven comes as part of a larger trend in religiously themed movies and this title makes an interesting comparison to the 2014 release Heaven Is for Real. Both of these movies are about faith-centered families whose child suffers a medical emergency, has an out of body experience, and then makes a miraculous recovery. Despite their similarities, there is an important distinction between Heaven is for Real and Miracles from Heaven; in the 2014 movie the miracle happens early on in the picture and the story is about the characters reconciling the miracle in their presence. Miracles from Heaven ends with the mysterious incident and there is little effort to unpack it. As a result the movie comes to a deus ex machina conclusion, in which the family’s problems are solved by divine intervention. The fact that this picture is based on a true story is no excuse. In terms of storytelling, the most interesting part of a miracle is what happens afterward but this film doesn’t explore that and it’s a dramatically unsatisfying resolution.

Bottom Line: Miracles from Heaven is sentimental and unchallenging but the material is elevated by impressive performances and solid production values. This is the kind of Easter season release that families of faith and church groups will take pleasure in.

Episode: #588 (March 27, 2016)