Miracles from Heaven (Riggen, 2016) suffers from overwhelming melodrama, one dimensional characters, a preachy screenplay and tonal inconsistencies – yet, you’d find yourself grabbing a box of tissues and sobbing your eyes out, endlessly relating to a universal story about faith, despair, tragedy and hope. Now, how does a predictable, average film do that? Quite a miracle.
The narrative itself is a hybrid of the emotional arc from My Sister’s Keeper; the screenplay written in the same archetypal neighborhood to that of Mitch Albom’s novels; visually borrows some of Peter Jackson’s heavenly ideas in The Lovely Bones — these concepts are all hemmed in one rope tied in an arrow, aimed to pierce the heart of the audience – and it did, successfully. However, the biggest issue is that its goal seems to be a lot bolder than the execution itself. The story works because it’s an easy sell – but it could have been a great opportunity to get past the clichés and cheesy dialogues rampant all throughout the film and simply focus on the rawness of a story that has a very humane approach to the concept of faith and miracle. It talks too much, yet hardly shows anything other than the predictable – and it doesn’t know when to stop the sermon.
The characters are nothing but foil. It’s hard to go deep into their emotional and psychological journey when they’re written as thinly as a paper, with nothing but a very aggressive and stereotypical characterization of a sick daughter, a supportive family, and sympathetic neighbors. Something that, I believe, we’ve all seen before. It leaves us craving for something deeper other than the obvious circumstances.
Let me give an example: a particular scene where Abbie (the eldest daughter) missed the opportunity of going to a soccer tryout because her dad (played by Martin Henderson) forgot to take her there, as he was already so consumed with the crisis they were going through. Abbie, of course, was left devastated and hurt as everybody’s else’s attention was on Annabel, the sick daughter. She felt left out, yet she has to stay strong and mature being the eldest one. She wants to be selfless but it’s hard to find the balance of finding your own happiness while your little sister is dying. Deep inside her, she was torn whether to feel guilty for her sister, or to feel bad for herself. Her mind wanders in the deep of the night until she found the courage to face the situation like a young adult by the next day. And oh, that’s just me explaining solely based on my assumptions. That wasn’t shown in the film. It’s hard for me to connect what she felt in that scene, because there wasn’t anything written for her. It was just a monochromatic scene of her being forgotten by her father. There was no back story as to her lifelong interest with soccer; there wasn’t anything that could build up to the father’s deteriorating relationship to her other children – nothing. And that is just a single example.
The film, however, is all about Jennifer Garner’s tour de force performance – perhaps, the best she has ever done in her career. As Christy Beam, she plays a mother juggling risks to save the life of her daughter, while keeping her sanity and faith in check. Her subtle moments are lovely; the way her eyes speak a thousand words of despair, hopelessness while masking it with the façade of strength and stern . Her big emotional scenes were played exactly right – she has managed to be precisely what the tone of the film calls for (despite the inconsistencies of the direction). She commands every scene, and it’s enough to forgive the other flaws of present.
At the end of the day, the film has its good intentions – to bring faith and religion on the foreground by using the unfortunate circumstances of a family suffering from a tragedy. Ultimately, it speaks universally despite the specificity of the trials of the Beam family. And amidst the errors and faults of the film, ultimately it reaches to its target at a bull’s eye – it won’t disappoint when you’re looking for a faith-driven, tear jerker flick.
It works. It’s flawed, but it works.