Miracles From Heaven
Starring Jennifer Garner, Nathan Riggs & Kylie Rogers
Directed by Patricia Riggen
Christy Beam didn’t believe in miracles—until one smacked her over the head.
Well, actually, it was her preteen daughter who got smacked. It’s all in Christy’s 2015 book, Miracles From Heaven, now a movie starring Jennifer Garner as the mom and Kylie Rogers, a 12-year-old veteran of more than 20 small-ish movie and TV roles, as her youngest of three girls, Annabel.
The setup: Annabel suffers terribly from a chronic, incurable disorder that blocks her bowels, distends her belly, causes her awful pain, restricts her diet to liquids and sends her shuttling with Christy between their home in Texas and a treatment center in Boston.
But one day, as she’s climbing the big old, dead cottonwood in her family’s yard, Annabel falls, headfirst, some 30 feet into the tree’s rotten trunk. There she remains, trapped and unconscious, until paramedics and firemen can free her. At first, everyone fears the worst; they think she’s dead. But then Annabel wakes up in the hospital with only a mild concussion—and, apparently, completely cured. One of her doctors admits that medical science has no proper term to describe when someone’s chronic condition suddenly—poof!—just disappears.
But Christy Beam knows what to call it: a miracle.
Miracles From Heaven is Hollywood’s latest foray into the faith-based market, a “message” film made for audiences who’ve indicated they’ll shell out and line up to see flicks that uphold and promote Christian values.
Director Patricia Riggen—whose previous project, The 33, was based on another true event, the 2010 Chilean mining disaster—has an eye for drama and a feel for character, and she treats the Beams as real people with real lives. Garland is believable as a frustrated, fiercely loving mom wrestling with her own crisis of faith. Queen Latifah provides comic relief as a Boston waitress.
The movie does dwell for a l-o-o-o-n-g time on Annabel’s suffering—it sometimes feels like a bit of a preteen Passion Play—and you have to wait for what feels like an eternity for the Big Event. The movie counterbalances the faith of Annabel’s dad, Kevin (hunky Martin Henderson, who plays Nathan Riggs on TV’s Grey’s Anatomy), with Christy’s doubts and worries about why her prayers are going unanswered—or unheard. But it really trowels on the gospel goo in the home stretch, when Annabel shares details of her near-death, out-of-body experience.
“Miracles are everywhere,” Christy ultimately tells her church congregation, alluding not just to her daughter’s recovery, but to smaller, everyday acts of goodness, kindness, generosity and forgiveness. There’s a graceful, lovely scene mid-movie where we watch as Annabel gazes at a modern art painting, looking into the colors and the swirls, and we see a close-up of her face as something transcendent happens; her soft blue eyes fill with tears, and she smiles.
If you can find a miracle—or whatever you want to call it—in the bottom of a hollow tree, why not in the brushstrokes of a painting? And a lot of other places, too.
—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine