Thursday 19 May 2016

Miracles From Heaven (2016) - Movie Review

The plot: The trailer. No, seriously, this is one of those movies where the trailer is a truncated version of the entire film.

The acting is actually pretty good, which after the slog I’ve gone through in the past is genuinely surprising in how even it is. Jennifer Garner has never been an actor who has impressed me all that much, and don’t get me wrong this didn’t completely change my opinion of her, but she does well with the grief her character has been given. Kylie Rogers is extremely precocious, as is are Brighton Sharbino and Courtney Fansler to varying degrees, but damn it all if she doesn’t sell the pain Anna goes through. Not gonna lie, got kind of choked up at one point. Eugeino Derbez makes a nice compromise between the jokey doctor and the Lifetime original movie doctor with how he plays both sides, and he may be a little too kid-friendly in this thing but he checks out.

Speaking of people who are too kid-friendly, Queen Latifah’s character is written like a bit of a creeper but she does a valiant job with the material and trying to make it sound natural. John Carroll Lynch is the Beam’s resident reverend Scott and he pretty much spends the whole movie like he’s delivering stand-up materials to the pews. One other actor who seriously needs to be mentioned is Wayne Pere as the father of another sick child that Anna shares a hospital room with. He is written initially as your typical Christian movie atheist, and comes off as a bit of a dick because of it, but he delivers his moment of redemption with probably some of the most intensity of the entire cast. What is it with these Christian films and the atheists being played by some of the best members of the cast?

This has one of those trailers that pretty much spell out the entire plot and I’m kind of glad that it is. It’s the kind of film where you need preemptive warning before going in about just how treacly the contents are. Okay, so this film is basically all about the power of faith and what happens when someone starts to doubt theirs. It features a lot of moments where the actors are clearly trying to force their way through some pretty melodramatic material, like when Christy is pleading with the receptionist to let her in to see Dr. Nurko even though she doesn’t have an appointment. It’s almost impossible not to laugh at the absurdity of the thing. Now, since I’m doing my best to forgo any theologically-based biases into my analysis of the film itself, I’m just going to focus on how it portrays the main idea. Honestly, it does  okay when it comes to showing Christy’s crisis of faith, even though it still doesn’t feel like enough time was devoted to it. As for what Anna is going through, this is where the precociousness kind of clashes with Rogers’ own acting ability because this is a lot darker than I would have expected from a film like this. It seriously gets to the point where she is pleading for death at one point because it hurts so much. I don’t want to make any blanket statements when it comes to kids dealing with mortality, since I don’t regularly make it a point to threaten to kill children, but it can feel like it’s too heavy for the person that’s saying it. Again, Rogers still manages to sell it, leading to that choked-up moment I mentioned before.

Don’t get me wrong, though; this still has its issues. Primarily, in how it shows the medical side of things. Since I haven’t read the memoir that this film was based on, I can’t say if this was an actual thing that happened but this feels like it was written with a lot of hostility towards the medical industry at the start. It frequently shows a lot of the doctors who look over Anna to be kind of dickish, like they all graduated from the ‘Enemies of Patch Adams’ school of medicine. It would make sense, considering the only doctor who’s shown to be a good person acts a lot like Robin Williams as Patch Adams, only without the whole practising without a license issue. Back with War Room, I made it a point of bringing up how prayer alone isn’t feasible: As God himself once said, “You want to see a miracle, son? Be the miracle.” Well, I kind of feel the need to bring that back up again because this, in certain ways, manages to outdo War Room in terms of portraying bad faith. Don’t get me wrong, that movie was absolutely atrocious in its morals but it didn’t actually show any involvement from a more material source like a marriage counsellor. Here, we see the alternative with the medical treatments and procedures but it’s all depicted as this fruitless endeavour into pain and unanswered questions. It carries a heavy odour of anti-vaxxer.

However, even though this dips further down than War Room in some areas, this is nowhere near that offensive. I mean, these characters aren’t nearly as blind as Elizabeth nor as monstrous as Tony. It may sneer at a few things, but it never does it with any real venom. Hell, the film ends on this disarmingly nice sentiment from Anna about people believing when they are ready that, frankly, embodies the attitude I wish a lot more Christian films would have. Don’t try and force it down our throats with so much rage, but rather just present it to us and let us do with it as we wish. But then again, this is kind of symptomatic of one of the main issues when it comes to modern-day Christian cinema: Settling for less.

It is an unfortunate reality that the medium for Christian films is pretty damn low, but it seems like most Christian audiences run with it because it’s one of the few that enforces their personal worldviews. Trust me, I feel the same way about John Hughes movies; yeah, Home Alone 3 isn’t all that great but it’s nice to see that same vibe on-screen that you can only really get in one place. So, when I look at this film that is nowhere near as hateful as some of the others that I have covered on this blog, I’m filled with this all-encompassing feeling of "Not good enough". Yeah, it’s relatively better, but that doesn’t mean that audiences will be happy if this is the best quality they can hope for. As much as other people would probably dread the day, but I would honestly like to see the big Jon Favreau’s Iron Man moment to happen for this sub-genre; that one great picture that can kick-start a higher standard for quality in the industry. Otherwise, you’re stuck with a film that ends like an even sappier version of ICP’s Miracles.

All in all, outside of the main concept that takes a very old Hollywood amnesia approach to medicine, in that knocks to the head fix the problem, this shows a certain step forward for the religious pedigree of late. It’s still a pretty wobbly step, between some of the ACTING! moments and the very syrupy nature of both the tone and a lot of the dialogue, but points are still deserved for how it doesn’t shy away from some of the murkier aspects of the story. It may outright dismiss a few, but baby steps.

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