Take a Drink: for shots of good ‘ol Americana
Take a Drink: for shots of the tree (you’ll know which one)
Take a Drink: whenever Garner freaks out
Take a Drink: for acts of kindness, small and large
Do a Shot: for miracles ‘n flowers ‘n butterflies
By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
As you can tell from how long it took for me to actually get this up, writing about Miracles from Heaven was… tough. On the surface, the film is exactly the mid-range straight up the middle play that we’ve come expect from corporate studio-sponsored “Christian” movies. However, it’s both that and not that.
I believe 3 can = 1, so bear with me.
Miracles from Heaven tells the largely true story of a little girl who was diagnosed with a likely fatal gastrointestinal disorder (Kylie Rogers), the mother (Jennifer Garner) and loving family (Martin Henderson & sundry children) who fight to get her the care she needs from the world class expert in her disorder (Eugenio Derbez), and, oh, that time she fell head-first three stories down a hollow tree and emerged with just a few scratches and a completely functional gastrointestinal system.
It’s a hell of a true story, and nobody does mid-range versions of hell of a true stories like Patricia Riggen (The 33). This film is full of Thomas Kincaid light and a high Hollywood sheen, which sets it apart from a lot of faith-based fare. It’s also nice to see a tiny bit of complexity in its portrayal of Christians by having a few the be horrible “you must really have sinned for this to happen” delusional variety.
Instead of damning with faint praise, though, I’d be remiss not to mention how uniformly well-acted the film is, especially Henderson’s long-suffering and loving father, Rogers’ precocious and preternaturally confident child performance, and Mexican superstar and American indie breakout Derbez (Instructions Not Included), who at first seems like stunt casting designed to rope in all of the on the rise moviegoing demographics but who reveals himself to be a sensitive performer who gives tiny intimations of how difficult such a job must be underlying his charismatic likability.
What really, really works about the film, though, is the emotional rise and fall, which really starts to pack a stealthy punch as the film goes along. These are good people facing tough problems, from our protagonist family to even the requisite doubting atheist, who feels like a real, breathing human person with doubts, cogent well-supported beliefs, and maybe even the seeds of an epiphany.
Even if he looks like a discount Christoph Waltz.
Pretty much all of the things you expected to be in this movie are here. Oodles of American flags, tastefully decorated brand spanking new churches full of big hair and Christian rock band cameos with a country twang and pop polish, prayers focused on personal wishes, motifs of wealth and Americana (these characters are the kind of “Middle Class” with that most of us real middle class don’t have a hope of touching… because 300 grand is still middle class, right?), all tied together with a ribbon of ropy, aromatic Texas bullshit. Yep, this is another “Christian movie” selling nationalism and that American brass ring, both concepts horrifically antithetical to the Christianity you’d find if you ever put down The Prayer of Jabez and cracked open an honest to God Bible.
Who needs an AntiChrist when you have Joel Osteen?
This can’t really hurt the film, because nobody expected anything different from it. What hurts it is its baldly commercial motivations. Here’s the problem with mixing the holy and the secular- it all becomes secular. Money is wholly secular, and pandering for it is by its nature insincere, and that insincerity taints the rest of the film, especially Jennifer Garner’s performance, which I didn’t believe for a second.
Some more things that annoyed me.
- What’s with portraying them young computer-savvy doctors as villains? No doctor ever is going to say “That is my diagnosis. Take it or leave it.” or anything remotely to that effect.
- An Angry Birds Movie preview and a 30 second Angry Birds product placement scene? Nice, Sony. Nice.
- I really like Queen Latifah. Seriously. But what was her purpose to the script besides “look at this kooky poor person!” I did think it was cool she works in the same hotel cafe I grabbed breakfast each morning of my recent business trip to the same medical complex Anna goes to. That breakfast was overpriced and mediocre, though.
Man, that title is awful, from the contextually redundant “from Heaven” to the fact that all it does is make me think of Insane Clown Posse.
Now, here’s a demographic that I’d love to see Hollywood try and pander to…
The other reason it’s awful, is because the film would have been stronger if it hadn’t been about a big miracle at all. As it spirals out into a Return of the King-level multiple ending jamboree, the greeting card platitudes and garish The Lovely Bones Heavenscapes land with a resounding thud… but the revelation of all of the small kindnesses that Anna received along the way is incredibly affecting. Those small miracles, and they do qualify as such despite the apparent agency of the people who performed them, are where you can really see God at work, and what really gives us hope.
Miracles from Heaven alternates genuinely emotional powerful scenes with pure cornpone hokeyness without any apparent understanding of what differentiates them. Despite it all, though, it earns some well-jerked tears.