The latest in a recent wave of mainstream faith-based films, Miracles From Heaven stars Jennifer Garner in a dramatization of a “real” story about a very sick, God-fearing girl, Anna, cured of a supposedly incurable intestinal disease by what her parents (Garner, Martin Henderson) call a divinely-gifted miracle. In short: she falls out of a tree, the trauma of which apparently rids her body of its deadly ailment—and definitively kills the audience’s suspension of disbelief.
Accepting such an event as a “miracle” is a hard pill to swallow for those who might not subscribe to the religious foundation the film stands upon. Doctors aiding Anna’s recovery initially dismiss her gargantuan, bloated stomach and months-long vomiting spells as “acid reflux,” scoffing as they say things like, “Well, I’m the doctor, and that’s my diagnosis,” when their authority is questioned. By the time we encounter the third in a series of sweepingly generalized groups classified under the umbrella of non-believers (journalists and restaurant staff are portrayed as godless monsters, just like those pesky doctors), it’s obvious that Miracles From Heaven’s goal is not to endear viewers to its spiritual ways, but rather cast judgment on those who don’t follow its teachings. You can’t endear when you’re subtly insulting, and Miracles From Heaven’s otherwise good intentions are lost in its confusing mix of uplifting spirituality and judgment.
Further adding to the film’s identity crisis, Garner’s never-ending pursuit of her on-screen daughter’s cure is punctuated by an obscure cinematic language, one that features characters breaking into random asides for upwards-facing pleas to the sky above, multiple sermons from a local preacher (John Carroll Lynch), and intermittent musical numbers from Christian rock groups peppered throughout. These moments are well intentioned, but the film too often registers as a pop-up book version of scriptural text with live-action footnotes padding an otherwise simplistic, one-track narrative.
Niche cinema often appeals to few, and great niche cinema can speak to anyone once they sit down in front of it, but Miracles From Heaven is prickly by nature, knowing exactly who its audience is as it expects their pre-established religious convictions to fill the gaps in its shoddy craftsmanship. Miracles From Heaven stands firm atop a sloppily made case for faith over logic and spirituality over science, and for that, it’s challenging to view as a film instead of judgmental ideology in cinematic drag. Despite what Miracles From Heaven tries to show us, “believing” is still a challenging concept to sell, even if the next film built around the idea is filled with characters who aren’t simply products of luck and circumstance. D–