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“Miracles from Heaven” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux

Miracles

From the producers of the 2014 faith-based hit “Heaven is for Real,” comes “Miracles from Heaven,” the latest film aimed at Christian audiences with the tried-and-true formula of name actors and supposedly-real testimonials. Jennifer Garner leads a surprisingly good cast in a story that isn’t always perfect and may actually leave some Christians temporarily irritated at the main character’s lack of faith, but hey, I guess that’s all the more reasons why the spoiler-free miracle is meant to take place. In its defense and regardless of its basis in fact, the film succeeds as both a compelling example of uplifting family entertainment and as an evangelical tool for churches that no one can accuse of being overtly preachy – and that’s one of its main draws.

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Kevin and Christy Beam (Martin Henderson and Jennifer Garner) head a picture-perfect rural family that also consists of three lovely daughters – Abbie, Adelynn and Anna – on a farm in Burleson, Texas. One can only imagine how far along in the first letter of the alphabet their procreation intends to take them, but as for the present they all make due with Dad’s veterinary practice while mom has her hands full tending house. It just so happens that the pious Beam household becomes disrupted with the sudden abdominal illness of middle daughter Anna (Kylie Rogers). What originally starts out as one misdiagnosis after another (indigestion, ulcers, et al.), finally rears its ugly head in the form of an incurable disease known as “Intestinal pseudo-obstruction,” which means that Anna cannot properly digest food. The constant pain that accompanies such a condition prompts Christy to seek treatment from the nation’s leading expert, Dr. Nurko (Eugenio Derbez) of Children’s hospital in Boston. The only problem is; the office has a VERY long waiting list.

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Driven by sheer will and motherly determination, Christy and Anna venture to Boston and proceed to more or less “camp out” at the hospital, but not before being befriended by Angela (Queen Latifah), a local waitress who becomes a tour guide for the mother and daughter in this faraway land, but most importantly an instrument of friendship and spiritual support – a lot more in fact than the Beams’ own church back in Texas! For our first miracle, Anna is able to skyrocket up Dr. Nurko’s waiting list – who is unquestionably a wonderful and entertaining man and doctor – yet, as we said before, the disease is incurable. So Anna’s remaining days are meant to make her as comfortable as can possibly be, in the face of such adversity. It’s not long before Anna is released to her home for what is perceived to be an inevitable date with death. Let me remind you however, the film is called “Miracles from Heaven,” so as a mother grapples with her faith, and a congregation passes judgment upon the family, Anna gets a vision of heaven…and the life of her and her family will be forever changed.

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This movie really hit the proverbial jackpot in terms of secular actors, and the cast couldn’t be better. It’s almost as if someone forgot to tell them that they were acting in a Christian movie! While it’s always nice to see the underrated Martin Henderson working (“The Ring,” anyone?), and he does manage to deliver a low-key impression upon the role of the Beam family patriarch, it is Jennifer Garner that gives the role of Anna’s mom her absolute all. Her performance is nothing short of outstanding. And even though I happen to be a little bit guilty of busting the chops of the “character” of Christy Beam for her incessant doubt when events looked at its bleakest, I imagine most mothers, regardless of faith, would act in very much the same manner. Most surprisingly effective is Queen Latifah’s turn as a waitress with a heart of gold. Her friendship given to Christy and Anna is undoubtedly a metaphor for kindness in general, and it can serve as a call of arms to do right by your fellow man. Now here comes the good part – what can I say about Eugenio Derbez as Dr. Nurko, except that the man is a joy to watch onscreen. Anyone who has had the pleasure to see 2013’s delightful “Instructions Not Included,” surely knows why this gifted actor/director should enjoy a multitude of heartfelt characterizations from this moment forward. After seeing this film, I want more doctors to compose themselves like Dr. Nurko, the man with the Elmo tie (a tie that he vows to take off only when one of his patients is cured).

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Another benefit of this film is the inspired casting of the Beam daughters. Newcomer Courtney Fansler transcends cuteness as the youngest daughter Adelynn, who vows not to eat pizza until her sister can do so as well. Now that’s what I call love! Fans of the hit series “The Walking Dead” will instantly recognize Brighton Sharbino from her unforgettable role as Lizzie “Look at the Flowers” Samuels. As eldest daughter Abbie, she does a good job of portraying a concerned sister, who’s also struggling with her own adolescence. And last but certainly not least is Kylie Rogers as Anna, who may not be the star of the film, but there is no mistake that she is the focus of it. At the age of 12, she brings an already-impressive resume to the table, having been featured in such recent films as “Space Station 76” and “Mojave,” as well as in a starring role on the ABC-TV series “The Whispers.” This promising young actress brings Anna to life with her heart-wrenching, yet heroically upbeat portrayal of a sick child who receives the ultimate gift. Rounding out the cast is character actor extraordinaire John Carroll Lynch as the family’s pastor, yet he ultimately serves as nothing more than an unnecessary middle man between the Beams and…well, God obviously.

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Directed by Patricia Riggen, “Miracles from Heaven” benefits from this very talented filmmaker’s knack for humanistic drama (“The 33,” “Girl in Progress”). We come to know a family who is quite unlike anyone I recognize, yet I can’t help but empathize with the plight of the Beam family and share in their joy at Anna’s healing (once again, no spoilers here!) This also represents a different and more mainstream attempt at Christian film, one that fashions itself more from the heart, and less from the pulpit. And because of that, it may win crossover appeal with people of different faiths and backgrounds. Because, as far as I can tell, almost everyone can and will appreciate a child who is given a new chance at life.

*** (three out of four stars)

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