Funny thing. Each week people ask me what movie I'll be writing about – when I told them this week that I'd be covering Miracles From Heaven, a based-on-fact inspirational tearjerker aimed at the evangelical crowd, most of those people assumed I'd be making fun of conservative Christians, and seemed a little disappointed when I said I wouldn't be.
We all accept the otherworldly baseball players in Field of Dreams, and the ghosts in Ghost, but miracles invite mockery. I reckon it's because the supernatural parts are presented as fact. Or maybe religion just stirs people up.
I grew up in a sorta religious household, attending Sunday morning services each week with my parents and siblings at The Nonthreatening, Polite but Vague Church of Christ. I drifted away from all that as I grew up, but over the last couple of decades I've taken my son there for midnight services every Christmas Eve.
As an agnostic I'm skeptical about the supernatural elements of religion. I'm also aware that there are many faiths around this planet that believe their deity to be the One True God just as much as Christians do.
I recognize that life is wonderful and difficult, and death is confounding and scary. If someone finds comfort in a belief system, the rest of us shouldn't mess with them, so long as they don't mess with us. That includes atheists, some of whom spend an inordinate amount of time on social media trying to make anyone that believes in anything feel stupid.
I used to have panic attacks about death until someone told me, "people that are busy living usually don't have time to worry about dying." That has proved to be one of the most useful statements I've ever heard.
Now about the movie ... Miracles From Heaven introduces the Beams, a wholesome Texas family including mother, Christy (Jennifer Garner), her veterinarian husband, Kevin (Martin Henderson) – who thoughtfully peels off his shirt in his very first scene so that we can enjoy his manly physique – and their three daughters, Abbie (Brighton Sharbino), middle sister Annabel (Kylie Rogers) and young Adelynn (Courtney Fansler).
When Annabel falls ill and the local doctors are dismissive – the girl's stomach is distended, she's in agonizing pain, and one physician suggests it may be lactose intolerance — Christy does whatever it takes to get appropriate treatment for her child by the best doctors in the country.
Christy's quest leads her to Boston, where she eventually connects with specialist Dr. Nuro (Eugenio Derbez), and the movie briefly strays into Patch Adams land. Queen Latifah pops up briefly as Angela, a sweet, good-humored waitress who befriends Christy and Annabel. Nice to see the Queen, wish she had more to do.
Whatever power the movie has comes from Jennifer Garner's performance. She's a ferocious mother who gets things done. The rapport between mother and daughter feels genuine — real enough to sustain us through the cheesy writing in Randy Brown's adaptation of Beams' 2015 book. Director Patricia Riggen (The 33) does nothing special. Her movie looks like it was commissioned by the Lifetime network. Unfortunately, Garner's standout performance underlines the triteness of the rest of the film. Riggen's willingness to lean on speechifying, montages and overbearing orchestration becomes numbing after a while.
And then there's the miracle. When Annabel gets healed (don't complain about spoiler alerts – it's in the title) following a bizarre accident and talks about visiting Heaven and talking with God, the whole thing comes off as ... underwhelming. The characters in the movie raise the expected hubbub, leading to challenges and more speeches, but we've seen enough flicks about kids meeting God that there's a certain sense of been there, done that.
Call me picky, but I want my movies about miracles to leave me with wonder in my eyes, along with a tear or two. Miracles From Heaven left me with the image of Martin Henderson's hairy, well-muscled torso burned into my retinas. But in these days of modern time, when you can't tell the ACs from the DCs, that's just not enough.