“It’s alright, mom.
Not everyone’s going to believe.
They’ll get there when they get there.”
Directed by Patricia Riggen (The 33), the family drama Miracles From Heaven, based on Christy Beam’s 2015 memoir of the same name about her family, specifically her daughter Annabel, strikes a nice balance using a simple format in character dialogue and storyline amid strong casting, themes, and filmmaking that handles the medical subject matter well. The source material provides a solid narrative for an enjoyable film for all ages.
Set in Burleson, Texas, Miracles From Heaven says a lot just in the title, including some potential stress-relief regarding the fate of 10-year-old Annabel, and her worsening health condition. The use of the plural “miracles” in the title refers to the idea that miracles are everywhere in life. The film features strong acting from well-cast performers.
The filmmakers lay a solid foundation for real, authentic family chemistry in this quality 109-minute film. Jennifer Garner (TV’s Alias, 13 Going on 30) plays the family matriarch Christy while New Zealand-born Martin Henderson (Bride and Prejudice, TV’s Grey’s Anatomy) plays her veterinarian husband Kevin. Texas-born Kylie Rogers (TV’s Once Upon a Time in Wonderland) plays Anna, the middle daughter of three, who becomes the story focal point after experiencing mysterious health issues. Brighton Sharbino (TV’s Once Upon a Time) plays her older sister Abbie and the adorable Courtney Fansier (TV’s Hand of God) plays Adelynn, the youngest sister in this close family of five.
Queen Latifah plays Angela in a key, but underused role, while John Carroll Lynch (The Founder) rounds out the supporting cast as the family’s pastor. Bruce Altman (Glengarry Glenn Ross) plays Dr. Burgi who puts the family in touch with the specially talented Dr. Nurko, played by filmmaker Eugenio Derbez (Instructions Not Included). The medical materials, conditions, authority, and even jargon anchor the dramatic elements without overwhelming audiences. The medical field characters make an effective bridge with their patients.
All their hopes and dreams can affect their beliefs/theology, while character testimonies about their experiences and views with God take life to another emotional level. Audiences will hear about God without feeling like it’s a forced presentation.
Randy Brown’s adapted screenplay concentrates on Christy’s point of view as her character arc covers a vulnerable, emotionally challenging range. Garner shows the practical and theoretical struggle behind faith in God. Brown retains the established family frame as situations deteriorate creating tension and drama. The characters struggle with their faith as many audiences might and/or have. “How do we explain the impossible?” says one character. Challenges and conflict arise from differing views, which naturally and predictably evolve since not everyone will believe the same way. Conflict also rises within the family’s church (my fellow audience member and fellow church attender quickly saw that confrontation coming, otherwise it was a fairly unpredictable story).
Emotions build best through the performances, especially through Garner and Rogers, as they raise their voices in joy, sorrow and anger throughout this ordeal. Anna encounters another girl named Haley, played by Hannah Alligood (Paper Towns) and her father, played by Wayne Pere (The Big Short). Filmmakers consider all character perspective among doctors, patients and everyone in between including non-Christian characters. The respectful treatment in realistic situations reinforce the beginning “What you are about to see is based on real events” notice.
Now the heaven sequence visuals (prominently features in the “Creating Heaven” extra) will certainly challenge audience perceptions and expectations. It’s a hard concept to visualize because this concept means so much to so many people. Filmmakers of the recent film Risen had a similar challenge with Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven. These impressive visual effects also connect other elements presented in the story and are well supported by the cinematographer, Checoo Varese, Riggen’s husband.
Familiar music songs like “Collide” and “Here Comes the Sun” complement Third Day’s prominent use in the Beam’s family church while the musical score from composer Carlo Siliotto (Instructions Not Included) compliments the heartfelt themes of sacrificial love, compassion, justice, and mercy.
The DVD version (Blu-ray also available, which includes deleted scenes including Anna’s accident scene at school) includes a commentary track with director Riggen and screenwriter Brown, “Miracles Around: The Making of Miracles From Heaven” feature where audiences meet the real Beam family (also during the ending credits). Other bonuses include the “Bearing Witness” feature, “Your Words” music montage featuring Third Day and concept art exploration. Subtitle text is available in French, Portuguese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Thai, Spanish, and English while the dubbed spoken language translations include French, Portuguese, Thai, and Spanish.
Seen as the spiritual successor to Heaven Is For Real, Miracles From Heaven was produced by DeVon Franklin, Joe Roth, and T.D. Jakes. Recommended and rated PG for thematic material, including accident and medical images (first time seen that one).