Jennifer Garner’s terrific performance as a desperate mother searching for a way to save her dying daughter paces the uneven faith-based film “Miracles From Heaven,” now in theaters.
Based on the true story of a Burleson family, “Miracles From Heaven” finds Garner as Christy Beam, mother of three and devoted Christian whose faith is tested as her middle daughter, Anna, struggles with a life-threatening and seemingly incurable stomach disease.
Despite the film’s many technical flaws, “Miracles From Heaven” offers a pure, sweetly sincere story that’s difficult not to enjoy, especially in the redemptive third act.
Garner offers up perhaps her best work in several years as Christy, playing an all-too-familiar character with requisite intensity while not overpowering the film. Often the role of the protective mother can be overdone to the point of caricature, but Garner hits all the right notes in an effortless, yet incredibly memorable performance.
Child actors are generally a hit or miss proposition. Kylie Rogers, who plays near death Anna, delivers on all the film’s most gut-wrenching moments and performs equally well regardless of the situation Anna finds herself in.
Many young actors would find it impossible to correctly navigate dialogue where Anna explains faith in the face of death to a young cancer patient she shares a room with. Rogers beautifully manuevers through this scene with ease, perhaps the highlight of the entire movie.
Queen Latifah, one of the film’s biggest names and a prominent star in trailers for the film, ultimately has little more than an extended cameo as a waitress who befriends Christy and Anna and gives the Texans a sightseeing tour of Boston.
The remainder of the cast offer varying degrees of sufficient performances, with funnyman Eugenio Derbez bringing light comedic balance to an otherwise heavy story as a Patch Adams-esque doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital. Grammy award-winning Christian rock band Third Day also cameos as musical worship leaders at the Beam’s home church in Burleson.
The film is adapted from Beam’s book of the same name, though screenwriter Randy Brown struggles to elevate the source material beyond a paint-by-numbers formula. Many scenes feels inorganic and mechanical, burdening the film with moments of needless minutia.
Brown’s inability to pull something greater out of the material even in the film’s most gripping segments. Late in the film, Garner delivers a fantastic monologue while preaching about the tragedies Beam’s family has gone through, dragging subpar material up to a mild respectability.
The film’s script so grossly hinders “Miracles From Heaven” that it’s nearly impossible for viewers to completely immerse themselves in the journey Christy and Anna endure.
Director Patricia Riggen, fresh off her work at the helm of Chilean miner crisis film “The 33,” does a serviceable job guiding viewers through the Beams’ story, though she does little to help offset the film’s major pacing issues.
Visually, “Miracles From Heaven” doesn’t break any new ground and often feels like more of a made-for-TV movie than a film intended for the big screen. However, one flashback scene late in the film does offer some surprisingly impressive computer generated imagery (CGI) that was an unexpected treat.
Though Hollywood has made significant strides in production quality in the faith-based genre, “Miracles From Heaven” proves there’s still a ways to go before a truly dynamic, groundbreaking film hits theaters.
Message remains the most important element within the genre and “Miracles From Heaven” holds spiritual meaning in spades. Garner’s work will captivate believers well suited to the genre and provide some cross-over appeal to a more mainstream audience as well.
Despite its cinematic flaws, “Miracles From Heaven” is a film viewers might want to consider hitting theaters for if they’re in the mood for a feel-good story of healing and faith.