I am a Christian who understands the fundamentals of Christianity. At the age of 7 I accepted Jesus as my savior and Lord, so I would consider myself knowledgeable in the subject (although I still have a lot to learn). I am also a passionate lover of film who knows how to tell the difference between a respectable movie, and a useless pile of garbage (I have much to learn in that regard as well). Some of you probably think that just because I am Christian, all Christian movies get a free pass with me. If anything, I will be even more meticulous with my judgements of the movie. Bottom line: if your movie is teaching a moral lesson (Dances with Wolves), making an argument (Philadelphia), providing commentary (Zootopia), or trying to faithfully adapt a story (Spotlight), if the movie can pull it off with tact, respect, and of course succeed in being a decent movie, then the film has done something truly admirable. Miracles from Heaven has failed in nearly every one of those aspects.
Miracles from Heaven is directed by Patricia Riggen, and adapted from Christy Beam’s book by Randy Brown (who also wrote Trouble with the Curve). Stars-Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers, Martin Henderson, and Queen Latifah. Premise-A young girl contracts an incurable intestinal disease, but one day she falls into a hollowed out tree which miraculously heals her.
I’m going to start off this review with a warning. This is going to be a SPOILER review (the theatrical trailer gave away the climax, so there’s little reason to avoid details, or even watch the movie), a very passionate review, and I am going to go in depth with the problems this movie has, both technical and spiritual. Keep in mind that most of what I say about this movie does not go for the book or the actual Beam family (who I am sure are nice people).
This movie is one of the most horribly shot films I have ever seen! The reason why is because if a cinematographer-who knew what they were doing-was hired, this movie could have looked stunning, Roger Deakins levels of stunning! There is an overuse of close-up shots, and the camera never keeps focus whenever there is an establishing shot. Yeah, it’s hard to believe, but there are some possibilities for stunning shots in this movie (granted, every now and then there will be a decent shot). The acting isn’t much better. The supporting cast is either over-the-top silly or as dull as Wonder Bread. It may just be me, but I really don’t like Jennifer Garner as an actress (it doesn’t help that her movie choices are often terrible). She comes across as “faking it” and she only has 3 different facial expressions throughout the movie. However, there is one saving grace (besides a whimsical score) and that is Kylie Rogers. She plays Anna (the girl who gets sick) and she completely convinced me of every emotion her character was going through. There is one scene in a hospital where Anna talks to her roommate (a girl Anna’s age with cancer) about family, faith, and the afterlife. This scene is well-acted, well-shot, and it provides the most heartfelt moment in the movie. By the way, Queen Latifah is in this movie. She does absolutely NOTHING (and the depiction of her may come across as slightly offensive)! If her character is a real person, that’s fine. But in a movie, a character that does nothing is what we call, “a waste of time.” By the way, this is a Sony movie. You know what that means? Self-indulgent product placement everywhere! This time, the product placement is done with stupid references to other Sony movies such as: Open Season, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and the upcoming Angry Birds movie. At least it’s not as egregiously prominent like with Goosebumps.
How about the characters? Oh boy, this is where the meat of this movie’s problems begins. For one, Anna’s character. This girl’s dialog is written like she was a wise adult rather than a child who just contracted a fatal (and incurable) digestive dysfunction. She gets better character development later on, but I found her dialog to be too perfect to be a real child. Besides the mother (Christy), the other members of the family get next to no development (I can’t even remember their names). If the filmmakers wanted the mother to be the “mother who never gives up and doesn’t care what she has to do to help her child” (like Kate McCallister from Home Alone), then they should have actually done that. Instead, we get a whiny parent who loses her faith in God a few days after her daughter begins to show signs of an illness. Yes, I know it is not my place to judge a person’s faith, but this is an interpretation intended to inspire faith. More time should have been devoted to Christy losing her faith after her limits were reached and she truly lost hope. We don’t even get a scene where she regains her faith, which is absolutely necessary, because she actually denounces God in one scene (or at least comes close to insulting Him).
Miracles from Heaven has a chronic condition of poorly representing authority figures. The pastor of the Beam family’s hometown church acts more like a stereotype of the modern pastor, rather than an actual pastor. In a crucial scene, Christy visits him looking for help. He replies with, “I can’t help you with your faith.” Yes you can sir, yes you can. A pastor is supposed to minister the Word and help those who seek Jesus. Building faith is not that difficult! Reading the Bible, praying, and fellowship with others who believe what you do (e.g. your churches’ pastor) build faith incredibly well. The doctors in the movie are also portrayed terribly. The first doctor Christy visits reassures that there is nothing wrong with Anna (although there clearly is) and that they have run all the tests. After some begging, the doctor (who looks like he just got out of college and should probably be a model) runs some more tests and then discovers something wrong with Anna (epic fail).
Finally we get to the climax. When Anna falls down the tree, she dies. Yeah, straight up deadified! It is explained that God Himself spoke to Anna and said that she was healed, and to return to her body. What’s contrived about this scenario is that the movie makes a big deal about a bunch of people praying around the tree that Anna is trapped in while she is rescued by the fire department. What shoots this potentially powerful scene in the foot is the fact that the movie brought up the question, “if God is good, then why is [insert beloved person here] suffering?” Yes, God does heal people out of the blue sometimes, and sometimes it is not so easy. Patience and faith are required and suffering may happen, but it will all be worth it in the end. But when you bring up that argument and then have God heal her after Anna suffered for so long only reinforces that age-old argument. What I’m saying is, this climax is horribly written.
Religion (especially Christianity) is hard to write because there is always an element of the supernatural involved that cannot be explained rationally. But that is why you have to try your absolute hardest. Details cannot be left out, and that’s why making up a screenplay that stretches the true story will not work out. If you want to make a movie (or painting, PSA, book, etc.) that explains and showcases something you believe in, more power to ya! Just make sure what you’re doing is in sound judgement, otherwise blind passion will lead you to slip up and tarnish the message you were trying to convey to the audience. In a worst case scenario, that slip up will actually hurt the cause you’re fighting for. Christianity is hardly ever correctly portrayed in media, whether by incompetence (as displayed by this movie), or by people who are against Christianity and stereotype the heck out of it (sitcoms like Family Guy especially).
I have not seen as many Christian films as I should, and I am striving to correct that. If Miracles from Heaven is anything to go by, then it’s no wonder why so many people hate the constantly flowing amount of Christian films. Besides: Ben-Hur, The Mission, The Ten Commandments, and The Prince of Egypt (all of which came out before 2000), nearly every other Christian movie has terrible ratings (God’s Not Dead, The Young Messiah, Faith of Our Fathers, Heaven is for Real, and anything directed by Alex Kendrick). Here’s me hoping that the Ben-Hur remake will be decent. Miracles from Heaven gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a D-.