“Miracles from Heaven” comes from the same studios behind 2014’s emotionally effective faith-based, true-story family drama “Heaven is for Real”. That film starred Greg Kinnear as a minister and father of a little boy who suffered a near-death experience and, once he recovered, claimed to have seen and talked with God. Much of the focus of that film was on the impact that revelation had on their family, the community and the national media.
On the surface, “Miracles from Heaven” seems very similar to “Heaven is for Real”. It’s also based on a true story, with a big-name star. Jennifer Garner plays Christy Beam, the mother/wife of a devout Christian family living in rural Texas. One of her three daughters, Annabelle (played by 12-year-old Kylie Rogers), gets a rare and incurable intestinal disease. Her agonizing, inspiring and powerful experiences while dealing with her illness dominate “Miracles from Heaven”. The narrative also includes some religious elements, but, unlike with “Heaven is for Real”, “Miracles” hardly spends any time on the “controversy” that comes from Anna’s claim that she spoke with God. More than anything else, this is a story of faith.
“Miracles from Heaven” is one of the most intense movies I’ve seen in quite some time, proving that you don’t need big-budget explosions or graphic fight scenes in order engage an audience. The combination of pain, frustration and drama on screen is compelling. Garner pours her heart into her role, portraying a mom who goes to every possible length to make sure that her daughter gets seen by the right doctors and is treated to their best care. There are so many scenes that are difficult to watch, particularly when Christy and her husband Kevin learn of Anna’s condition. A conversation between Anna and another sick girl in their Boston Children’s Hospital room is heartbreaking. And there’s a phone conversation between Christy and a doctor, who explains how she’ll get an appointment with a specialist, that is stunning in its power.
Mexican actor, writer and director Eugenio Derbez (“Instructions Not Included”) is terrific as Dr. Nurko, the child-friendly doctor who treats Anna in Boston. He becomes just one “miracle” in the Beam family’s life. Another is waitress Angela (played by Queen Latifah), who sees value in random customers Christy and Anna and befriends them. She offers to give these needy strangers a tour of Boston, including a visit to the Aquarium, whose beautiful creatures amaze Anna and enrich her spirit. Latifah’s slightly over-the-top character is a little too Hollywood, taking you out of the moment a bit, but she is vital to the overall message.
If you know the real story of the Beam family going into “Miracles from Heaven”, or have just seen the trailers, that’s exactly what you get here. There are no twists or shockers. And the spiritual aspect of the film is very subtle compared to others in this genre. But all of that is OK. This film is about the determination of a mother, the courage of a little girl, and about finding light, and God, even in the most frustrating and challenging times. And the payoff, shown through a finale montage, is completely unexpected, smart and really effective. It may take a little faith on your part to see “Miracles from Heaven” but, just as what happens to the characters in the film, that faith will be rewarded.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Miracles from Heaven” gets a B+.
Running Time: 109 min.