“Miracles From Heaven” has the ability to do what “Risen” and “The Young Messiah” could not: Attract a mainstream movie audience looking for religious inspiration and a true story delivered with Hollywood star power.
Jennifer Garner is Christy Beam, a churchgoing Texan, wife of a hard-working veterinarian, Kevin (Martin Henderson), and mother to their three daughters. Their worries are mainly related to money until their middle girl, Annabel also known as Anna (Kylie Rogers), gets sick and then sicker without any obvious cause or treatment in sight.
It starts with frequent vomiting, a bloated belly and wincing pain, and various doctors suggest she is lactose intolerant or suffering from severe acid reflux. When a diagnosis finally comes it’s a severe intestinal motility disorder, which means, for starters, that the 10-year-old cannot process food in a normal way and must be fed through a tube threaded into her nose.
When Christy asks a physician, “She’ll get better, right?” there is no such assurance and the only person who might be able to help is a specialist in Boston and Christy cannot even get an appointment. Or an answer to Anna’s question, “Why do you think God hasn’t healed me?”
Christy fends off a small knot of uncharitable churchgoers and is driven by desperation to take leaps of faith regarding Anna’s care even while her own religious beliefs wane. In the end, the family experiences not one but a pair of miracles that cannot be easily explained by any doctor.
Christy told the family’s story in a memoir, “Miracles From Heaven,” which was turned into a screenplay by Randy Brown (“Trouble With the Curve” with Clint Eastwood as an ailing baseball scout).
Patricia Riggen (“The 33”) directs “Miracles” and is blessed by the presence of Ms. Garner, a real-life mom of three and an often underappreciated actress, and young Kylie Rogers, who was in Pittsburgh two years ago to play the young child of Russell Crowe in “Fathers & Daughters.” Kylie, who has dimples like Ms. Garner and translucent eyes like Mr. Henderson, has an authentic way of crying and conveying pain that is crucial to the movie.
The story veers into hokey territory with a waitress (Queen Latifah) who is aggressively spirited and helpful in a way that comes across as fanciful. She is designed to lend a touch of comedy and joy to an otherwise serious interlude although a world-class doctor with a lighthearted bedside manner also fills that void. Later, it’s hard to believe a member of the Beams’ church would question in public (with TV cameras rolling) the severity of Anna’s illness. Aw, come on.
As with “Heaven Is for Real,” about a 4-year-old Nebraska boy, this one depicts heaven but avoids angels and the appearance of Jesus, which one critic characterized in 2014 as looking like the worst moments from a church Easter production. This is brief and, while not ideal, better.
“Miracles” is about Anna’s healing and a belief in God, but also about the day-to-day kindnesses of strangers or friends that can make all the difference in the world. That is an evergreen message that should resonate with audiences whether they’re more familiar with a movie theater or a house of worship.