The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Miracles from Heaven

Miracles from Heaven is a good example of what a faith-based film should be. It's even more useful as a rebuttal to all the faith-based films that get it wrong. There is none of that bizarre “the whole world is out to get us” paranoia you find in pictures like God's Not Dead and Last Ounce of Courage, nor is there the unintentional hilarity of such desperate-to-be-deep works as Do You Believe?. (And seriously, if you've never seen that film, the last fifteen minutes are an all-time howler, particularly the resolution of Brian Bosworth's subplot.) Instead, Miracles from Heaven finds a nice balance. If you want a meaningful Christian message, you'll absolutely find one. If that's not your cup of tea, you can still enjoy a really amazing feel-good story.

Based on actual events, the movie is about the Beam family: mom Christy (Jennifer Garner), dad Kevin (Martin Henderson), and their three daughters Anna (Kylie Rogers), Abbie (Brighton Sharbino), and Adelynn (Courtney Fansler). They are a tight-knit group who regularly attend their local church, which is presided over by the kindly Pastor Scott (John Carroll Lynch). Tough times hit the family when Anna is diagnosed with a rare digestive disorder that causes her stomach to become distended and painful because her intestines don't function properly. The condition is so severe that she might not survive. Christy flies Anna from Texas to Boston to get treatment from Dr. Nurko (Eugenio Derbez), an expert at a top children's hospital. He does what he can to keep Anna hanging on. Wondering how a loving God can allow her little girl to be so ill, Christy starts to lose her faith. Then tragedy strikes. She prays for a miracle, and gets an even bigger one than she hoped for. (The film's trailer gives the whole thing away, but for those who don't know, we'll maintain some semblance of mystery.)

Miracles from Heaven is, first and foremost, a mind-blowing tale. Regardless of whether you believe in miracles in the literal sense, there's no doubt that what happened to the Beams qualifies as one in some form. The movie takes you unflinchingly through Anna's sickness and the sense of hopelessness that starts to seep into the family before unveiling a twist that, were it fiction, would be dismissed as implausible. The fact that it's true gives the twist an incredibly emotional quality, leaving you with a lump in your throat and possibly more than a few tears in your eyes. Of course, the film attributes this miracle to God, which is as convincing an explanation as any. Even if you aren't a believer, though, it's tough to deny that sometimes things happen in our world which cannot be explained, and it's astounding when they do.

Under the direction of Patricia Riggen (Under the Same Moon, The 33), the events that occurred in these peoples' lives are compellingly recounted. Attention to storytelling is vital. Miracles from Heaven – based on Christy Beam's book of the same name – makes story its first priority, with the religious message backing it up rather than substituting for it. Too many faith-based films falter by putting the message first, which is detrimental from a dramatic standpoint, if not a religious one. There are no moments of overt sermonizing here, just an identifiable portrait of people who turn to their Christian faith in a time of crisis and feel that their prayers are heard.

Jennifer Garner is very good as the mother who refuses to give up on her daughter, even when her belief starts to vanish. She captures all the panic and heartbreak that would certainly accompany having a gravely ill child. Eugenio Derbez (Instructions Not Included), meanwhile, is phenomenal as the caring doctor who mixes medical skill with a fun-loving bedside manner that delights his young patients. There's no cloying Patch Adams-type goofiness in his performance; it feels authentic. As Anna, Kylie Rogers does admirably natural work, especially in a scene where she has to break down in despair over the constant pain her character is in. She has another vital moment near the end that, in the wrong hands, could have come off as stilted. Rogers gives it just the right touch.

Miracles from Heaven has a few flaws in the margins. A waitress (played by Queen Latifah) who befriends Anna and Christy is presumably intended to provide comic relief, although she just feels as though she wandered in from some other movie. The characters of Kevin and the girls are not nearly as well developed as Anna and Christy. Also, a final twist involving a minor supporting character, while designed to show how faith can spread, feels a little too manipulated to be credible.

Small imperfections aside, the movie largely does what it sets out to do. Miracles from Heaven ends with Christy giving a speech about how miracles, big and small, are all around us, all the time. It's a really beautiful sentiment in a hopeful, inspiring film.

( out of four)

Miracles from Heaven is rated PG for thematic material, including accident and medical images. The running time is 1 hour and 49 minutes.

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