REVIEW: Miracles from Heaven

John Hanlon
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Posted: Mar 18, 2016 12:01 AM
REVIEW: Miracles from Heaven

“Faith is the only true shelter,” a minister notes before the rain starts metaphorically pouring at the beginning of the new film Miracles from Heaven.

The film, which was inspired by a true story, focuses on a young girl named Anna Beam (Kylie Rogers) who begins suffering from a chronic intestinal disorder. Her family prays to no avail until she accidentally falls from a tree and is miraculously cured. The movie offers a strong religious message that is made all the more powerful because of the great performances that surround it.

Within the movie’s opening moments, Kevin (Martin Henderson), his wife Christy (Jennifer Garner) and their three daughters attend a service led by Pastor Scott (John Carroll Lynch). Their family is a religious one. They believe in the power of Christ, the importance of prayer and the vitality of faith. Then, tragedy occurs.

Anna is diagnosed with an intestinal disorder that leaves her in constant pain and it’s then that the “true shelter” of their faith is really tested.

Here, the film goes beyond its message of faith to really explore how Christy’s beliefs change during this tumultuous time and the film nicely offers a fully-realized perspective about how a family crisis can push one away from religion. This story shows how Christy's feelings are tested because of the illness and because of the lack of sympathy she receives from other believers. Fellow parishioners from Church inform her that her daughter’s illness is a result of the sins perpetrated by her family.

If that wasn't enough, Anna’s own upbringing leads her to painfully ask her mother questions like “Why do you think God hasn’t healed me?” Christy faces her sick daughter day after day with few answers to offer and it's hard to watch her grapple with this painful situation.

Jennifer Garner — who is a mother herself — imbues her character with the perfect amount of heartbreak, frustration and anger. Here is a woman who has spent so much of her life in faith but who questions it when her daughter’s illness seemingly cannot be cured. “You could tell me why a loving God would let Annabelle suffer the way she has,” she tells the minister. In supporting roles in the past including Draft Day(2014), Garner hasn’t really been able to show her range as an actress but here she has the perfect opportunity to do it and she really elevates this story, bringing a beautiful sympathy and dramatic gravitas to the film.

The motion picture is also helped by its able supporting cast, who create really colorful characters with only a few minutes of screen time. Queen Latifah plays Angela, a waitress who befriends Christy and Anna when the duo visit Boston for a hospital visit. At first, it doesn’t seem obvious how Angela will fit into the narrative but she truly does, bringing a positive and upbeat presence into a film with truly sad moments.

The same can be said for Eugenio Derbez, who plays a Boston doctor who treats Christy in the latter half of the film. Derbez’s Doctor Nurko brings the family some tough news but he’s also seen as an ebullient personality who makes his patients feel at home with his guidance.

Director Patricia Riggen, who previously helmed The 33, really finds a nice balance here showing light-hearted moments in the midst of a tragic story.

When the miracle occurs late in the feature, Riggen and scriptwriter Randy Brown don’t settle for an easy solution. They don't present it as the end of the family's difficult journey. The miracle is a gateway for a larger discussion about faith and Christy talks about that in a third-act speech that encapsulates much of this family’s journey.

Miracles from Heaven will definitely appeal to a Christian audience who know the story but because of its tremendous cast (especially Jennifer Garner) and its great message about everyday miracles, it goes beyond that core audience and offers an uplifting tale that even non-religious families can appreciate.