Movie Review: Miracles from Heaven

Miracles from Heaven is a disruptive new God film from the folks who brought us Heaven Is For Real. There are many similarities to the two films. Each film is about a miracle experienced by a child. Each child has an out-of-body encounter with heaven and God, and comes from an already-believing family. Each film features scenes in church with preaching and praise and worship music. And each film is, thankfully, well-lit.

Heaven Is For Real was a much more straightforward film about a four-year-old boy who dies, goes to heaven and comes back, while Miracles from Heaven is a much stranger, more complex story of a slightly older girl (ten years old) with a complicated medical condition, who experiences a bizarre accident that cures her, or does it? Was it really the accident that cures her? Was it prayer? Was it God intervening no matter what? And how can anyone relate to such a weird miracle?

My suspicion was that I had already seen the film just by watching the trailer — that is, all the good parts were shown in the trailer and “spoiled.” I was half right. What you see in the trailer is pretty much the third act.

A lot is given away in the trailer, to be sure, but I don’t know how else the filmmakers could have gotten people in theaters without revealing an event so curious that moviegoers would want to see the full story. Casting big-name actor, Jennifer Garner (as Christy, the Mom), gives even more credibility to this incredulous tale.

I am calling this a disruptive film because my very first gut-reaction was: “Heaven Is For Real is about an experience of heaven. Miracles From Heaven is about a family who received a miracle. People’s reaction is going to be: I prayed for a miracle for my child and didn’t get one!” But this hasn’t seemed to be people’s reaction.

The film does not sidestep this question of the problem of evil, the question of “Why, God?!” and the answers are not the usual. The answers are embedded in events, experiences and the realities of all kinds of people’s reactions to the everyday miraculous along with the extraordinary miraculous. There is a wonderful emphasis on “being the miracle” ourselves, but not to the exclusion or doubting of the truly God-miraculous. It’s not God or us, it’s God and us. And our God is disruptive, is He not?

The film starts off super-saccharine: a portrait of the happiest family in Texas (no doubt to show the contrast to their upcoming struggles). Their church is the happiest place on earth with the best music in Christendom (the golden-voiced Mac Powell from Third Day is the music ministry). The pastor is jovial, entertaining , kind and beloved. Life is a dream until middle daughter, Anna (Kylie Rogers) begins having severe, persistent stomach pain out of the blue.

The always-excellent New Zealand actor, Martin Henderson, plays Kevin, the husband/Dad: a laid-back veterinarian who doesn’t worry too much about anything because of his tremendous faith in God. Christy, instead, is losing faith fast. Although they’re a great parental team, Miracles is also a story about a fierce mother-warrior who storms heaven, earth and hell to get her daughter help.

Jennifer Garner’s performance is average, nothing more. Her range is more suited to Alias, roles that require a kind of earnest, superficial lightness. The child actors — as are all child actors today it seems — are magnificent.

Miracles is not a Hallmark film, not “heartwarming” (both of which I am allergic to). This film “goes there,” albeit in a slightly whitewashed way. We observe a little girl who is dying, who is depressed, who is angry, who is going through the five stages of dying. We see a mother at her wit’s end and a family who is literally torn apart and focusing all its attention on only one member.

The real Beam family is shown at the end with an update and voiceover from Anna herself. Fascinating.

Miracles From Heaven gets better and better as it goes along, and there are even a few surprises at the end. The answers given (to the question of tragedy) midway through the film pale in comparison with the final answers. The answers are not a bunch of tenuous chatter. The answers are lived and inarguable. The ultimate question of the film seems to be: “Is life better with God?” It’s a question that each one of us has to answer for ourselves.

Sister Helena Burns, fsp belongs to the Daughters of St. Paul, an international congregation of religious women dedicated to spreading God's Word through the media: www.pauline.org. She gives workshops to teens and adults on media, philosophy, and Theology of the Body and is the movie reviewer for The Catholic New World, Chicago's Catholic newspaper. You can follow her excellent blog, HellBurns at hellburns.blogspot.com.