September 18, 2018

“Miracles from Heaven”

Friendly Persuasion

2 & 1/2 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer

 

I think it was Saint Augustine, if I may paraphrase a saint, who stated that one cannot prove G-d’s existence through logic, but rather, only through one’s faith. It is in this theological vein, whether consciously referencing the early Christian thinker or not, that director Patricia Riggen weaves her tear-jerking, often compelling “Miracles from Heaven.” The film is based on the true life travail of Anna Beam, a terribly sick little girl superbly portrayed by Kylie Rogers.

The open-minded as well as the ever curious will find much to chaw on here, whereas devout atheists may view this faith-based exercise in religious conviction with the same disapproval a vegetarian might feel when confronted with a sizzling, 24 oz. ribeye (medium, please). But while inevitably confirming what the choir has been singing since most of humanity embraced the monotheistic concept, it’s the quasi believers who haven’t completely shut the door on a higher power who are likely to be most challenged and/or intrigued by Anna’s testimony.

 

Oh, to be as convinced and as certain of salvation as the Beam family of Burleson, Texas, appears to be in the opening scene. Gathered outdoors, frolicking in the sun on their tidy, picture-perfect ranch are sisters Anna, Abbie and Adelynn, politely bickering over the trivial things that seem important when you really haven’t a trouble in the world. Their pretty mom, Christy (Jennifer Garner), looks on with pride, while Dr. Kevin Beam, their dad and a veterinarian who just opened a big new clinic, busies himself in the corral, a symbol of well-being and solidity.

 

Of course, whether in the movies or real life, most of us get a little scared when treated to such serenity. It’s the way we’re hardwired. Call it the survival instinct. So we suspect there’s something wrong with this picture. Yep…the other shoe, doubtlessly lost by some ill-willed giant, is about to drop. Quicker than you can say manipulative mechanism, a dark pall covers the Beam family’s world. When suddenly struck with stomach pains, Anna isn’t just sick: She’s very sick. Going from medical pillar to post, it’s soon learned she has a very rare digestive disease.

 

There is no known cure. The only doctor who has had a modicum of success in alleviating some of the scourge’s symptoms is a Dr. Nurko, sympathetically played by Eugenio Derbez. But he’s in Boston. And who knows if the bigtime physician will see Anna anyway? The waiting list for an appointment is nine months. Even if there is an opening, start calculating the airfare back and forth from Texas. Dad, convincingly acted by Martin Henderson, has just recently sunk all the savings in his new facility. The bills accumulate.

 

Going a bit interfaith here, there is an old Jewish saying that goes, “You’re only as happy as your unhappiest child.” Suffice it to note, the Beams are devastated. And even though the coming attractions and the movie’s title itself basically give it away, we, too, can’t help being down in the mouth. This is the point in the story where one totally firm in his convictions might admonish, “O ye, of little faith,” or something like that. But it gets worse and worse, heightened by a painfully realistic performance by Miss Rogers. It is a parent’s worst nightmare.

 

So it is no wonder when Christy starts wavering toward the Doubting Thomas side of things. Questioned about her morality by two of the congregation’s biggest busybodies, who have the unmitigated gall to suggest some self-examination, she stops going to church. It is at this time that the screenplay by Randy Brown, adapted from Christy Beam’s book of the same title, makes its heartfelt statement about religious faith. This can make some uneasy. Still, to her credit, unlike the majority of folks out to save your soul, Mrs. Beam does it sans excessive preachiness.

 

While true believers will have their spiritual convictions confirmed, skeptics pondering the saga’s pronouncements may seek a scientific explanation for its revelations. The author does leave that door open, just a crack. Others, whose jury is still out as regards the mysteries of the universe and this mortal life, might contemplate how nice it would be to believe that there is a guiding hand and some reason to what otherwise seems haphazard and without explanation.

 

That said, this is not easy viewing. Good acting makes it quite convincing. When poor Anna wants to give up her valiant fight and tells her Mom so in no uncertain terms, it gets way too real. It’s guaranteed to conjure up memories of all those loved ones whose senseless suffering we’ve unfortunately witnessed. ‘Please let this girl get better,’ we murmur to ourselves, barely able to hold back our tears, unintentionally finding ourselves praying for “Miracles from Heaven.”

“Miracles from Heaven,” rated PG, is a Sony Pictures release directed by Patricia Riggen and stars Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers and Martin Henderson. Running time: 109 minutes

 

 

 

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