Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Miracles from Heaven

MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN (Patricia Riggen, 2016)

In MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN the Beam family appears to have as close to a perfect life in their spacious ranch house in a suburb of Fort Worth, Texas. Christy (Jennifer Garner) and Kevin (Martin Henderson) feel blessed to have three daughters and an ever-expanding number of dogs, although mom may not be thrilled every time a new one is brought home. Kevin has opened a big veterinary clinic. Christy worries a little that they might have overextended themselves in launching the business, but she and her family are regular churchgoers with faith that God will see them through whatever may come.

Christy finds that faith tested when middle daughter Anna (Kylie Rogers) becomes sick and seems to be getting worse despite medical professionals assuring her and her husband that there’s nothing seriously wrong. When Anna is finally diagnosed correctly with an intestinal disorder, the news could not be more disheartening. The condition is incurable and does not permit Anna to eat. Christy is distraught, finding her only comfort in the hope that a Boston specialist will take Anna as a patient and be able to alleviate her considerable pain.

MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN treads lightly as a story of tested faith, but it allows Christy to have the space to turn away from the church in a manner that makes sense even for believers. The strain of her daughter’s struggle, the lack of hope, and the cruel judgment of others as to her piety and how a deficiency in it might be responsible for the situation provide sufficient reasons for Christy to turn away from religion. Because this film’s purpose is to witness, MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN is careful to avoid Christy rejecting God outright but instead has her distance herself from a higher power, like putting something in storage that she does not have use for currently. God is there if she needs it, especially when she doesn’t think He can or will intervene.

While MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN makes room for that doubt, it is saddled with the narrative and filmmaking problems endemic to faith-based films, particularly those grounded in evangelical Protestantism. Primarily this is a matter of message above all. Randy Brown’s adaptation of Christy Beam’s real-life account of what happened to her daughter has two clear purposes. It is to assure those who are born again that their faith is the one true way, and it is to welcome non-believers to the light without being too Jesus-y. The first intention shows in doctors broadly dismissing Christy’s protests that something serious is wrong with Anna because, after all, they are the experts. This gets complicated when one doctor is a comfort to Christy and Anna, but the film reminds that he’s no match for God. It also comes across in the sense of superiority over a father who doesn’t his sick daughter tainted with that God stuff. In the film’s view prayer is like a wish slot machine that you just have to keep pumping enough quarters into until you hit the jackpot.

It’s no surprise that MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN plays best when it’s taking it easy on the sermonizing and merely letting the characters inhabit the stressful circumstances. The middle portion with Christy and Anna in Boston succeeds best because focuses on a parent and a child coping with hard things. A better film would have looked closer at the financial problems this medical predicament would put them in, especially when it just pays lip service to their stretched bank account mentioned early on. Although Anna’s illness is an emotional drain on the rest of the family, the film deals with them with a token scene or two. Perhaps most distressing is how MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN seeks to glorify God in on Anna’s unexplainable healing without fully appreciating the smaller kindnesses she and Christy received throughout the trying times. The message may be to open one’s eyes to how God is reflected in the words and deeds of others, but the film prefers something showier.

Grade: C-

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