Normally, when reviewing a film, there’s a tricky balance to discussing the details of the plot. If a description’s vague enough, it’s pointless. If it’s too descriptive, though, there’s a risk of voiding any reason to actually see a film in the first place. Even if a review is negative, I approach my reviews with the idea that someone reading may want to go watch the film in question after reading my review.
All of that to say this: it’s hard for me to worry about that when trailers for Miracles from Heaven give away the entire plot in the trailer. In case you’ve missed it, though: mother Christy Beam (Jennifer Garner) undergoes a crisis of faith when her middle daughter Anna (Kylie Rogers) is diagnosed with a rare intestinal disorder. As Anna undergoes treatment for the incurable disease, living in constant pain and only allowed to eat from a tube, Christy can’t believe that a loving God would allow Anna to suffer like this.
As the trailers give away (rather prominently), the film’s turning point comes when Anna falls down a hollow tree, hitting her head hard but ultimately waking up completely cured. And while the film attributes this to God, it also goes out of its way to provide a more vague, inspirational take for the less faithful in the audience: to enjoy the miraculous things that occur every day.
The film is centered around the “event,” which most audience members know is coming. Until then, the film attempts to create dramatic tension through Christy’s crisis of faith. With one eye firmly on the evangelical target audience, though, Christy’s clear worries about not only her Anna’s health, but her husband’s (Martin Henderson) new business and the financial strain the combination of the two are putting on the family, are met with responses like a vague “things will work out” response from her husband. Her refusal to just accept that answer while things are wrong with Anna are treated with incredulity, which is insulting both to anyone suffering under similar circumstances and the notion of a God who created humans with the ability to think and process.
By and large, like many faith-based movies, the message is placed above a decent narrative. It’s nearly impossible for a film to recover from that sort of hobbling. To its credit, the film gets a much better lead than it deserves in Jennifer Garner. Garner’s talented enough to pull off this type of character, removed from the religious context, and one has to imagine it appealed to her in part because it’s a leading performance with the potential for showing off some range for an actress over that certain age. It’s not enough to fix the film, especially when she’s dealing with material like listening to her daughter’s description of the afterlife in a strange, matter-of-fact tone, or dealing with young doctor after young doctor early on who are all too quick to dismiss Anna’s illness as something minor. But Garner does make the film intermittently watchable.
For years, though, certain groups within Christianity have complained about Hollywood not responding to their worldview when making films. For the past few years, that’s not been the case. Christian films aren’t just the product of independent outlets, but major studios as well. There’s a reason, though, that they’re so hard to take seriously. There’s no push for something substantive, or something where the conclusion isn’t inevitable. No matter how talented the people working on these films are (and that varies from film to film), the message is the priority; sometimes, in fact, that’s the only consideration.