As faith-based films go, “Miracles from Heaven” is a bit of a soft-sell.
Faith is present and the faithful are tested — by bad fortune, by the medical establishment, by their fellow churchgoers. But when good things happen to a family whose little girl is snatched from the jaws of an untreatable, fatal illness, they know who gets the credit.
It’s a feel-good movie “based on real events” and built around an emphatic, emotional performance by Jennifer Garner. She plays Christy Beam, a Texas mom who lives every parent’s nightmare. Her angelic little girl, Anna (gets sick). And nobody seems to know what’s wrong.
They live in a big house in relative affluence.
“It’s a good life, Christy Beam,” veterinarian husband Kevin (Martin Henderson of “Everest”) recites, as a mantra. “It’s a good life, Kevin Beam,” Christy beams back.
They’re solid church-going folks, part of a modern “spirit-filled” evangelical congregation where the music is provided by a Christian pop band and the preacher (John Carroll Lynch, very good) who knows sermons go down easier when they’re entertaining — lighthearted.
But the Beams are bowled over when Anna gets sick. And Christy has to get her back up as doctor after doctor misdiagnoses the ever-sicker child. Veteran character actor Bruce Altman has the gravitas to reassure us that yes, his character’s diagnosis is the correct one. Anna is dying and it will be an agonizing death.
Director Patricia Riggen (“Under the Same Moon”) plays up the emotions, the strain and the desperation facing the family, Christy in particular, as she looks for that one doctor who will tell her something different. Desperation sends them to Boston, without an appointment, where a specialist (Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez of “Instructions Not Included”). His news isn’t much better. But as he clowns around the patient, we and they can hope.
Queen Latifah plays a comically sympathetic waitress who shows mother and daughter around the city. Treatment begins, and then something totally outside the treatment changes everything.
The movie flirts with supernaturalism. But the Beams’ story is anchored in smaller miracles — the reliability of friends, the kindness of strangers.
The movie shows how church can be a judgmental place, as the family’s fellow congregants first suggest to her that some sin has brought this punishment from God down on Anna, and then question the “miracle” they claim has healed her.
It can be cloying, with Derbez and Latifah landing their (welcome second act) laughs a little too hard. To its credit, it has only one “God’s Not Dead” worthy poisonous line — “I’m not going to Hell. Hell’s in California!”
But Garner makes us believe in her plight, in Christy’s anger at her faith and her church. And her desperation convinces us that whatever happened, somebody who goes through something as awful as this deserves if not a pass, at least the benefit of the doubt and our full, undiluted sympathy.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic material, including accident and medical images
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers, Queen Latifah, Martin Henderson, Eugenio Derbez
Credits: Directed by Patricia Riggen , script by Randy Brown, based on the Christy Beam book . A Sony/Affirm release.
Running time: 1:49