'Miracles from Heaven'
‘Miracles from Heaven’ marks the latest entry in Sony’s ongoing commitment to Christian-focused filmmaking. In fact, the production wing even has its own awkward title card now: Affirm Films. (Yeah, it means exactly what you think it does.) This one is a spiritual sequel (pun intended, apologies) to the unexpected Greg Kinnear hit ‘Heaven Is for Real’.
It’s a similar “true” story with a mother/daughter team subbing in for the father/son dynamic of the last flick. Once again, it’s actually fairly well made and performed and even dramatically compelling in a corny/sincere “Disease of the Week” kind of way. Unfortunately, the movie also carries a message that is downright irresponsible. Granted, that might be accidental, but it’s a problem and feels rather wrong, especially for a movie that wants to be friendly, loving and life affirming.
Jennifer Garner stars as Christy Beam, the mother of three perfect angelic daughters and wife to the most loving husband imaginable. The family goes to church and have sweet BBQs. Country music seems to explode out of their daily lives without need for a soundtrack. It’s magical. Then one day, middle daughter Anna (Kylie Rogers) is diagnosed with a rare disorder that prevents her from digesting food. Of course, it takes a while for the medical establishment to recognize that. She keeps getting misdiagnosed because the heartless doctors are so lost in all their “science” and “medicine” claptrap that they just won’t listen to a mother’s concerns.
Monthly visits to a specialist in Boston are required. This drains the family’s bank account and puts severe strains on Christy’s emotional state and, even worse, her faith. Eventually, Anna ends up trapped in a tree after a strange accident. It requires a team of rescue workers and a whole lotta prayer to get her out, but wouldn’t ya know it, she survives and is miraculously cured of her rare disorder! Thanks to a near-death experience and a trip to Heaven, the little girl even proves that God exists in the process. Hallelujah! Can I get an “Amen”?
So… yeah… ‘Miracles from Heaven’ falls halfway between a TV movie of the week and ‘Heaven Is for Real’. On a purely superficial level, it’s fairly competently made. Garner anchors things well with all the scrunchy-faced emoting you expect from the actress. Director Patricia Riggen (‘The 33’) shoots and paces the film competently and has assembled a decent cast. (Queen Latifah pops up in one of those “sassy best friend” roles she so often gets stuck playing.) The film may be corny and overblown, but that’s melodrama. As far as that safe and predictable genre goes, there have been far worse movies than this in the past and there will be far worse ones in the future.
Where things get troubling is the propagandistic aspect of the story. I don’t have a problem with someone making Christian movies aimed at a Christian market. That’s no different than any trend of films that appeal to a specific niche. However, there’s something about the way this particular movie suggests that prayer is a superior means to cure a child of illness that feels wrong. Other than one nice doctor who makes jokes worse than Patch Adams, the film presents the entire medical profession as arrogant heathens who don’t understand a mother’s intuition or faith. While I’m sure there are a-hole doctors just as there are jerks in every walk of life, they do better and more productive work for the sick people of the world than prayer. Spreading a message that suggests otherwise through a mainstream Hollywood entertainment feels deeply irresponsible.
That’s not to say that everyone who sees the movie will immediately abandon hospitals for church services. Obviously not. However, if it makes anyone question the medical establishment to the detriment of their child’s welfare, that’s horrible and frighteningly possible. I hope it doesn’t happen, but given how blatantly and shamelessly manipulative these studio-funded, religion-pandering movies tend to be without the target audience complaining, it’s tough to say.
As an example, ‘Miracles from Heaven’ halts at a certain point to focus on a pastor playing ‘Angry Birds’ to cross-promote Sony’s animated movie coming out this summer, just like ‘Heaven Is for Real’ did for ‘Spider-Man’. No other Sony pictures cross-promote other projects so blatantly and nakedly, just the religious ones. This suggests that that the producers behind these movies don’t think too highly of their audience, doesn’t it?
What we have in ‘Miracles from Heaven’ is an inoffensively dull and overly manipulative movie, which would be fine were it not for the fact that it preaches such an irresponsible message. That takes a film which would have merely been forgettable and makes it somewhat loathsome. To be clear, the fact that it preaches Christian values isn’t what makes this offensive. What is absolutely wrong is the fact that it suggests a path towards healing disease that could be genuinely harmful for children. The rest of the film’s weaknesses are all of the cornball variety that are easier to ignore. The fact that the filmmakers chose to preach an irresponsible message through such manipulative means on a grand scale is what makes ‘Miracles from Heaven’ one of the worst examples of the growing Christsploitation movie movement. Avoid.