In recent years, there’s been a mini trend of faith-based films concerned with proving the existence of heaven. Based on true stories, films such as “Heaven is For Real” and “90 Minutes in Heaven” take up this task.
Ostensibly following on their heels is the Jennifer Garner-starring “Miracles From Heaven,” based on an amazing — and weird — true story. But while the film is centered on Christian-based faith, it argues for the powers of miracles that are of the more terrestrial and quotidian.
Garner is Christy Beam, mother to Anna (Kylie Rogers), who suffers from a debilitating, incurable intestinal disorder. After months in the hospital, one day Anna is playing with her sister, climbing a tree, when she falls, headfirst, 30 feet inside the dead tree trunk. She is stuck for hours. When firefighters pull her out, not only is she unharmed, but she’s miraculously cured. That premise is the one presented in all of the film’s marketing. But “Miracles From Heaven” manages to be more than that.
This is directed by Patricia Riggen, who also directed last year’s “The 33,” the story of the Chilean miner rescue, and she brings to life the despair felt by the family during Anna’s illness. Much of the film is centered on Christy’s search for a cure for Anna, who suffers greatly. Losing her faith, questioning why such a small kid is in such pain, Christy has a hard time recognizing the small miracles that occur every day during their ordeal — the small kindnesses of a receptionist who helps her, or a friendly waitress, Angela (Queen Latifah), who offers friendship when Christy and Anna need it most. Even the love shown by their specialist, Dr. Nurco (Eugenio Derbez), is in itself a small miracle. We come to realize that the larger, more amazing miracles are made up of all these small tokens of love and selflessness.
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Riggen effectively creates a sense of how intimidating hospitals and medical procedures are for a young kid, shooting many things from Anna’s perspective. The emphasis on Anna and Christy’s experience of these trials is a smart choice, as both Garner and Rogers are strong, charismatic performers. Garner is compelling as the dedicated mom questioning everything she believes while fighting for her daughter’s life, and young Rogers gives an impressive performance as Anna struggling to maintain her sunny outlook while coping with pain and suffering.
In terms of religion, Riggen, and writer Randy Brown, who adapted Christy Beam’s book, emphasize the power of community offered by the Beams’ church, which is of the contemporary, fun, spiritual-rock-band variety. Their church community is always there for them — but there are ups and downs to this tight-knit group, especially when some question Anna’s ordeal.
While the film runs a bit too long, and the heartstring tugging becomes overwrought, overall, this family melodrama about a devastating illness and the freak accident that cured it is surprisingly effective, even for those of little faith. There are those who can choose to see it as unassailable evidence that heaven exists, but the film reaches beyond that audience and provides confirmation of the more human miracles that exist in everyday life, if you choose to see them.
“MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN”
☆ ☆ 1/2 (out of 4)
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers, Queen Latifah, Martin Henderson, Eugenio Derbez, John Carroll Lynch
Director: Patricia Riggen
Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Rating: PG, for thematic material, including accident and medical images