Miracles from Heaven

Posted by Joel Copling on March 17, 2016

"Miracles from Heaven," in spite of its trite title is perhaps the best film of the slew of faith-based ones that have been springing into existence ever since Hollywood realized they were marketable product with a wide-reaching audience. The reason is evident when darting in between the very present elements in director Patricia Riggen's handling of the material, which has all the makings of a gooey, gloopy melodrama but largely spends its 109 minutes in a fascinating area of doubt in a higher power. That might actually turn off audiences prepared to come as families to a Christian-themed Easter release, but it also helps to separate it from the overtly manipulative likes of 2014's "God's Not Dead" or 2006's "Facing the Giants."

The Beams are an idyllic family just outside of Fort Worth, Texas. They are faithful attendees of a local church whose pastor (John Carroll Lynch) just so happens to impart a message that is relevant to the lives of Kevin (Martin Henderson) and Christy Beam's (Jennifer Garner) upcoming journey. Indeed, the film frontloads a lot of this kind of easy convenience in an unpromising opening half-hour and provides an unedifying conclusion; together the bookends do a lot to undermine the effectiveness of what comes in between, which has a considerable impact. Anyway, Kevin and Christy are a happily married couple, she a stay-at-home mom of three and he the operator of a ranch that they own (At least, I think--it's a bit hazy how exactly they run an entire farm).

The three daughters in descending order of importance are Anna (Kylie Rogers), Abbie (Brighton Sharbino), and Adelynn (Courtney Fansler) (If one switches the first and second of those daughters, it becomes a descending order of age). The family is thrown into the heaviest strain when Anna seemingly contracts a sudden onset of food poisoning. Doctors are baffled but send the family home with some assurance. The problem, of course, is much more serious than they ever thought--more serious, even, than severe acid reflux or lactose intolerance. Strange symptoms such as chronic pain and a pouched belly follow, more doctors are called in, and Christy, fed up with a system that seems to be forcing her to wait for months that Kylie may not have, travels to Boston to find answers.

Anna's condition turns out to be a motility disorder of the intestine. It makes processing food impossible (and, thus, chewing food pointless), requires tubal feeding through the nose and into the stomach, and does not currently have a cure. The impossible happens: Anna falls into the hollowed tree that becomes a symbolic background figure throughout, suffers only scratches and bruises, and is miraculously cured of the illness. The stretches during which Anna is hospitalized are the undeniably the film's strongest and most affecting, made more so by the desperate performances from Garner, who has a particularly strong moment with a receptionist whose hands feel tied by new employment, and Rogers, who thankfully avoids every possible moment of precociousness as a child who is facing mortality.

Christy begins to lose her faith (Fellow churchgoers who guess that someone's sinful lifestyle is responsible for the lack of answers early on don't help), Anna's simply grows stronger (There is a moving discussion of shared experiences with a young cancer patient, whom we learn has a less idealistic home life), and Kevin tries to maintain the peace back in Texas (eventually bring Abbie and Adelynn with him as a surprise to Christy and Anna in a sequence that is joy personified). Randy Brown's screenplay (based on Christy Beam's memoir that shares the film's name) can't help but to wrap up in exactly as manipulative a way as it has been avoiding, but "Miracles from Heaven" proves a solid source of tearjerking methods that will earn the waterworks instead of pandering to a demographic.

Film Information

Jennifer Garner (Christy Beam), Kylie Rogers (Anna Beam), Martin Henderson (Kevin Beam), Brighton Sharbino (Abbie Beam), Courtney Fansler (Adelynn Beam), Queen Latifah (Angela), John Carroll Lynch (Pastor Scott).

Directed by Patricia Riggen and written by Randy Brown, based on the book by Christy Beam.

Rated PG (thematic material including accident/medical images).

109 minutes.

Released on March 18, 2016.