Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 119 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 8+. This faith-based film is about a young girl who became sick with a rare and deadly illness, and a lot of the film is spent in various hospitals, which could be frightening for younger viewers. Also some disturbing imagery (including the sick child’s bloated stomach), a scary fall from 30 feet high, and discussions about death.
Easter-timed release ‘Miracles From Heaven’ aims for faith-based audiences, and its narrow focus keeps the film’s message of possibility and positivity from appealing to wider viewers.
By Roxana Hadadi
Families looking for a movie to see together during this current Easter season could do worse than “Miracles From Heaven”—the abysmal “Gods of Egypt” is still in theaters—but they could also do a lot better with a choice like “Zootopia” or “Eddie the Eagle.” Faith-based audiences will probably assume that “Miracles From Heaven” will deliver inspiring entertainment, but this story takes so long to get going and ends so inauthentically that it’s difficult to enjoy.
All the elements of a tear-jerker are here: Based on the memoir by Texas mother Christy Beam, “Miracles From Heaven” focuses on the relationship between Christy (Jennifer Garner, of “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”) and her middle daughter Anna (Kylie Rogers). Their family is happy and loving, but money is already a little tight when the family opens a veterinary clinic, and then Anna gets mysteriously sick.
Constant abdominal issues are first written off by doctors as lactose intolerance, but Christy doesn’t agree, and goes into full mama-bear mode trying to figure out what’s wrong with Anna. But when they learn from sympathetic specialist Dr. Nurko (Eugenio Derbez, of “The Book of Life”) that Anna has a rare and deadly gastrointestinal disorder that prevents her from digesting food and manifests in a grotesquely swollen stomach and horrible pain, Christy’s faith is shaken. How could God have let this happen to her daughter and to her family?
Things get more complicated when Anna has an accident while climbing a hollow tree in the family backyard and falls 30 feet on her head. The accident should have killed Anna, but instead, her illness is gone. Was God, who Christy was so angry with before, listening to her prayers? And when Anna mentions that someone told her she would be healthy again, is it her imagination—or did she actually have an experience in Heaven?
“Miracles From Heaven” actually has a good amount in common with last week’s “The Young Messiah,” even though the former is about a modern Texas family and the latter is about Jesus’s boyhood. Both films attempt heart-warming, uplifting stories about the power of Christian belief and the divisions between believers in that faith and everyone else, and both films use young and adorable children to drive home that point. But with so many similarities come the same flaws, too: the same narrow focus, the same plodding narrative style, the same overwrought drama.
As always, films like this raise the question “What about everyone else?” When Christy is angry with God for giving her family this pain, it’s impossible to avoid wondering if she cared this much, or even at all, about all the other people suffering in the world—irrespective of their religious beliefs. Garner gives a very earnest performance, but her commitment doesn’t diminish the film’s various issues, like its distrust of most medical professionals and its reliance on Christian rock performances to convey the power of community.
“Miracles From Heaven” in particular takes its time when it doesn’t need to; all of the film’s marketing has already given away that Anna is sick, that her fall cures her, and that she believes she interacted with God, and the film doesn’t deviate from that at all. Its runtime feels painfully lengthy because longer than the first hour is spent bouncing Anna from doctor to doctor to show Christy’s growing desperation, and then the conclusion hastily brings into play the idea that if you don’t believe Anna’s recovery was a miracle, perhaps you should reconsider how you look at the world.
What are the kindness of strangers and the love of family if not miracles? the film asks, but that humanitarian idea feels tacked on as a way to assuage non-religious viewers. It’s not explored in the same way that Christy’s Christianity is, and it’s not given the same dimension as Anna’s experience in Heaven, which has its own pastel-colored montage.
“Miracles From Heaven” is clearly aiming at a very specific demographic—Christian mothers of a certain age, with children of a certain age—and for those viewers, perhaps the tears will come early and often. But for everyone else, the viewing of “Miracles From Heaven” is more problematic than cathartic.
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