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Laura Linney, Maggie Smith, The Miracle Club
(L to R): Laura Linney and Maggie Smith in 'The Miracle Club' (courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)

Tribeca Film Festival Review: ‘The Miracle Club,’ Starring Maggie Smith, Laura Linney, Kathy Bates

Set in 1960s Ireland, The Miracle Club screened as a Spotlight Narrative World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival 2023. Written by Jimmy Smallhorne, Timothy Prager, and Joshua D. Maurer, it was directed by Thaddeus O’Sullivan and sports four heavy-hitting actors to portray a poignant story of loss, heartbreak, and reconciliation. In the Q&A, O’Sullivan quipped that the film he longed to make finally got made to screen at Tribeca. Sometimes, like issues of faith, miracles like this film take their time to emerge as perfect works. The Miracle Club clearly appears to be such a film.

It opens at the seaside in Ballygar, a lower middle class community in Dublin, Ireland. The camera focuses on Lily (Maggie Smith) bringing flowers to her son’s grave. Reading the grave wall we note he drowned at sea in his 20s, decades before. From there the director introduces us to Lily’s cohort for the evening celebration. Lily and friends Eileen (Kathy Bates) and Dolly (Agnes O’Casey) dress in coordinated outfits in the midst of their chaotic home lives.

Chrissie returns 40 years later for her mother’s funeral

As they head off to church for a celebration, Chrissie (Laura Linney) meets with Father Byrne (Mark O’Halloran). He shows her her mother’s casket decorated with beautiful flowers paid for by a friend. When he gives Chrissie her mother’s house key, Chrissie questions why no one pays respects to her mother. Father Byrne explains the congregants’ plan to attend the evening’s fundraiser for a Lourdes trip, which her mother had spearheaded. He suggests friends and family felt her mom would want them to celebrate. Then, he invites her to join the congregation for a variety show with a prize given for best performance.

From Chrissie’s responses, we divine the decades-long estrangement between Chrissie and her mother. When she walks into the house where she lived 40 years before, she behaves like a stranger. Clearly, she won’t stay. Most probably, she will sell the house and belongings as soon as she straightens out her mother’s affairs.

Thaddeus O'Sullivan, Laura Linney at the Q and A after the World Premiere screening of 'The Miracle Club' at Tribeca Film Festival (courtesy of Carole Di Tosti)
Thaddeus O’Sullivan, Laura Linney at the Q&A after the world premiere screening of The Miracle Club at Tribeca Film Festival (courtesy of Carole Di Tosti)

Interestingly, Chrissie’s, presence in the town, noticed by the old-timers friendly with her parents, receives mixed responses. Her mother’s friends Lily and Eileen ostracize her. ButChrissie behaves with gentility and grace. Especially kind to new friend Dolly, she encourages her about her son who has autism (undiagnosed) and doesn’t speak.

Father Byrne encourages reconciliation

As events unravel, Father Byrne encourages Chrissie and her mother’s friends who hold grudges against her to make peace. Initially, Chrissie declines going on the trip. When Lily, Eileen, and Dolly take the tour of Lourdes, we discover each has a secret reason for going. Dolly hopes her son will receive a miracle and talk. Lily and Eileen enjoy accompanying Dolly and her son.

However, they also go for a miracle from the Blessed Mother. At the last minute, Dolly’s husband releases Dolly but tells her never to return home. She defies him in search of the miracle, her son’s speech. The driver leaves, but has to stop. After hesitating, Chrissie decides to join the trip. Surprisingly, she blocks the bus until the driver lets her on, a dramatic flourish which shocks Lily and Eileen.

Why Chrissie joins the ‘miracle club’

During the journey, we understand why Chrissie joins the group and withstands the ire of her mother’s friends, who obviously despise her. Chrissie seeks answers from them. Not understanding their behavior years ago, she intends to confront them and receive the truth. How and when this occurs on their journey to Lourdes provides laughter, joy and heartbreak. Father Byrne encourages the reconciliation of the women and Chrissie. However, he and they understand that without such reconciliation, their own redemption and self-forgiveness will never occur.

Key elements in the film’s fine rendering include the ensemble work by the stellar cast. Additionally, the director’s attention to historical elements provides a return to a time in Dublin right before the Troubles began. Importantly, we note the lower middle class housing and the cultural oppression of the Catholic church. Lily and Eileen’s response, to uphold the hypocritical values, contributed to the destruction of friendships and Chrissie leaving. The oppressive mores help explain why Chrissie and her mother never reconciled from their estrangement.

Clearly, one of the themes of The Miracle Club is the harm caused by dictatorial, bigoted parents and nihilistic church ways. Yet the writers have mitigated the severity of Catholicism’s control. Through the kindliness of attractive Father Byrne who has winning ways and a sense of humor, we realize the Church’s changes since Chrissie left.

By the film’s conclusion, the mystery of Lily’s son’s drowning and why Chrissie left only to return after her mother’s death are clarified. Lily,, Eileen, and Dolly do receive their miracles, though Dolly doesn’t realize it. Poignantly, the most important miracle is that the lost friendships,are restored. Chrissie’s return is the finest miracle they receive.

Look for The Miracle Club to screen on platforms in the near future.

About Carole Di Tosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is a published writer, playwright, novelist, poet. She owns and manages three well-established blogs: 'The Fat and the Skinny,' 'All Along the NYC Skyline' (https://caroleditosti.com/) 'A Christian Apologists' Sonnets.' She also manages the newly established 'Carole Di Tosti's Linchpin,' which is devoted to foreign theater reviews and guest reviews. She contributed articles to Technorati (310) on various trending topics from 2011-2013. To Blogcritics she has contributed 583+ reviews, interviews on films and theater predominately. Carole Di Tosti also has reviewed NYBG exhibits and wine events. She guest writes for 'Theater Pizzazz' and has contributed to 'T2Chronicles,' 'NY Theatre Wire' and other online publications. She covers NYC trending events and writes articles promoting advocacy. She professionally free-lanced for TMR and VERVE for 1 1/2 years. She was a former English Instructor. Her published dissertation is referenced in three books, two by Margo Ely, Ph.D. Her novel 'Peregrine: The Ceremony of Powers' will be on sale in January 2021. Her full length plays, 'Edgar,' 'The Painter on His Way to Work,' and 'Pandemics or How Maria Caught Her Vibe' are being submitted for representation and production.

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