I have never been a religious person, but growing up in the South, church is a place I still found myself going with some frequency, and often against my will. I always found it odd, however, that ministers and preachers so often spoke of sin. Jesus was always forgiving our sins. God was forever absolving them. God had sent his only begotten son into the world to save us from all those evil deeds, and if we would only confess and ask forgiveness, our sins could all be forgotten. Given the amount of sinning going on, it always felt to me as though I were surrounded in church pews by abusers, rapists, and murderers. What had they done so terrible that they needed to come to church every Sunday to be forgiven?
Those suspicions did not endear me to the church, but like most people, I have my own version of faith, even if that’s not the term we’d use for it. I am superstitious. I also believe in karmic balance. Tip your waitstaff well, and the world will be kind to you. Four years ago, as we waited and hoped for the Monoamniotic Miracle Twins to arrive, I put my faith in statistics. Each day that passed meant the odds would increase. At 12 weeks of pregnancy, there was an 80 percent chance the twins would expire. At 20 weeks, it was 50 percent. By 28 weeks, the odds had gone down precipitously. I searched far and wide for research studies, and I took comfort in their numbers. The fact that both twins survived and arrived healthy and unscathed was a “statistical miracle.”
Miracles from Heaven is about another brand of miracle. It’s the kind of movie that would be easy for a sardonic website like ours to dismiss as evangelical pablum. But I’m not going to, because to denigrate the faith of Christians is no better than dismissing my faith in statistics or tipping. During our darkest periods, we all cling to something, and as long as the faiths we hold don’t disparage the beliefs of others, I see no harm in them.
That means judging Miracles in Heaven on the merits of the film itself. Based on the memoir of Christy Beam (here played by Jennifer Garner), the film is about her 10-year-old daughter’s near death experience. She suffers from an incurable disease, pseudo-obstruction motility disorder, which basically means that her intestines cannot process food.
Most of the film details the struggles of Beam and her daughter as they deal with a disease they assumed would eventually kill her. There’s a lot of trips from Forth Worth to a hospital in Boston. There’s more than a few visits to church, as much of the story revolves around how Anna’s disease shook Christy’s faith in God. That is, until Anna falls three stories down a hollowed-out tree, bumps her head, and wakes up cured of an incurable disease (this is not a spoiler — it’s in the trailer).
It’s not a particularly well-written (Randy Brown from Beam’s memoir) or directed (Patricia Riggen) movie. It can be preachy at times. It’s rife with platitudes, and the homespun characters can feel horribly inauthentic (a Boston waitress played by Queen Latifah who decides to take two strangers on a tour of the city in her beater is a particularly egregious example of this).
But then, there’s Jennifer Garner. She’s commanding in the role. The helplessness she feels watching her daughter wither away feels genuine and heartbreaking, and her determination to find a cure or something to ease her daughter’s pain rings true. Jennifer Garner makes us feel everything she’s feeling: Helplessness, sadness, anger, and elation. The mom gene is strong in her, and it translates well onto the screen.
In other words, it doesn’t matter how cynical you are. It doesn’t matter how strong you are in your agnosticism. It doesn’t matter how much you are laughing at me right now for writing this. Jennifer Garner will make you believe in this miracle and the smaller miracles all around us. She will make you cry, and Garner is good enough that you won’t even feel ashamed about it afterwards. Miracles from Heaven is a mawkish, feel-good tearjerker, but thanks to Garner’s strong performance, it will eat even the most hardened skeptics alive.