The Miracle Club

Every Catholic (or former Catholic) knows Lourdes is a town in France where the Virgin Mary has supposedly appeared 18 times over the centuries. The faithful flock there to bathe in its waters, hoping a miracle will occur in their lives. In other words, it's a terrific setting for a movie that touches on what it means to be a believer and whether miracles really do happen. The Miracle Club wants to be that movie, yet stumbles badly. For starters, it assumes everyone already knows about Lourdes and therefore doesn't bother explaining its allure for the unfamiliar. Things go downhill from there.

The story begins in the Irish town of Ballygar. Eileen (Kathy Bates) and Lily (Maggie Smith) have just lost the third member of their social trio. The former has also discovered a lump in her breast that greatly concerns her. The women are shocked when their deceased friend's estranged daughter Chrissie (Laura Linney) shows up. They've never forgiven her for breaking her mother's heart.

Eileen and Lily join together with the younger Dolly (Agnes O'Casey) in a local talent show, hoping to win tickets to Lourdes. We understand Eileen is worried about cancer. Motivations for the others are hazier. The movie rushes through them, guaranteeing we never become emotionally invested in their story arcs. All of them end up going to Lourdes, including Chrissie, allowing long-buried tensions to rise to the surface. If you guessed the plot's "miracle" is forgiveness, pat yourself on the back.

Aside from doing a poor job of establishing character and setting, The Miracle Club can't decide what kind of movie it wants to be. Certain scenes are dramatically heavy (if empty), others almost broadly comedic. We're supposed to be amused by stuff like Maggie Smith frolicking in holy water and the pointless antics of Eileen's working class husband (Stephen Rea). Going for that "dramedy" tone would work if we had a better understanding of how much it means to the women to be in Lourdes. We should feel their sense of awe at being in this place. We should vicariously experience the hope it brings them. A thin screenplay denies us those elements, robbing the film of the pathos it's desperately aiming for.

When you have the estimable Kathy Bates, Maggie Smith, and Laura Linney in a film, you're certainly going to get decent performances. The actresses - and Agnes O'Casey - do the strongest work they can with weak material. They're so good that you find yourself constantly wishing The Miracle Club was better. Bates, in particular, attempts to bring nuance to a character who's written with none. She and her co-stars are very watchable, even if little else is.

The Miracle Club is obviously aimed at older females. That's admirable, given a disproportionate number of movies these days are aimed at teenagers. But director Thaddeus O'Sullivan stages everything flatly, as though he assumes his target audience won't want anything that makes them think too much. Consequently, three screen legends and a promising relative newcomer are wasted in a drab, dull picture.

out of four

The Miracle Club is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.