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"MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN"
(2016) (Jennifer Garner, Martin Henderson) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A child with a rare, incurable disease is miraculously cured, baffling medical professionals and her family.
PLOT:
Christy (JENNIFER GARNER) and Kevin Beam (MARTIN HENDERSON) live a good and honorable life in Texas. The happily married couple are parents to three beautiful daughters, operate a veterinary clinic that is expanding, and are faithful churchgoers under the kindly guidance of Pastor Scott (JOHN CARROLL LYNCH). But one night, their middle child, Anna (KYLIE ROGERS) wakes up with extreme stomach pain, and they rush her to the hospital. What follows are several weeks where Anna's condition is diagnosed as being everything from possible food poisoning to lactose intolerance.

Eventually, though, her pain becomes worse and her belly protrudes to an alarming size. She is finally and correctly diagnosed with a rare and incurable disease and referred to a pediatric specialist, Dr. Nurko (EUGENIO DERBEZ), in Boston. He puts her on a special drug treatment that he hopes will at least ease some of her symptoms and allow her to eat some food. While in Boston, they make friends with a quirky waitress named Angela (QUEEN LATIFAH), who keeps their spirits up. Meanwhile, Kevin has mortgaged the farm and his practice to the limit, and he has to shoulder most of the responsibilities of caring for their other two daughters, teenage Abbie (BRIGHTON SHARBINO) and youngster Adelynn (COURTNEY FANSLER).

Running low on funds, faith, and hope, the Beams ultimately come to learn that Dr. Nurko's long-shot treatment is not working, and so they stop the twice-monthly visits to Massachusetts. Then, one day, Abbie and Anna climb a tall tree outside the family house. A branch breaks, and Anna goes falling down the old tree's hollowed-out center. Remarkably, she is rescued by paramedics and firefighters with only a few scrapes and bruises. Even more remarkable, the fall seems to have reset her body and quite possibly cured her, something that no one inside or outside of the medical profession can explain.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
At one point, the new film "Miracles From Heaven" quotes the great Albert Einstein when he was asked about matters of faith. The brilliant scientist answered that, in his view, there are two kinds of people in this world. "Those who believe nothing is a miracle, and those who believe everything is a miracle." That's kind of the point this new movie tries to make and does. That every once in a while, for those who believe, a bona fide miracle happens in the world. But in order for that miracle to happen, a whole lot of smaller, less heralded miracles have to happen along the way -- instances of good-hearted people coming together for a few seconds or longer to help things.

"Miracles From Heaven" is based on real events. Is it based on a true story? That's something you must decide for yourself. My purpose as a reviewer is to determine whether it's a good movie, a good representative of its genre, and worth the time and money of both its target audience and those outside the target audience. In my estimation, the answers to those questions are all "Yes!" This is the best of the recent slate of faith-based movies to hit cinemas.

Jennifer Garner and Martin Henderson star as Christy and Kevin Beam, a happily married Texas couple with three beautiful daughters. They're the kind of folks who wear crosses around their necks and fly Lone Star State flags in the front yard. Then one night, their middle child Anna (Kylie Rogers) runs to the bathroom and vomits. A couple of weeks later, they find her in her bed writhing in pain from repeated stomach aches. She is diagnosed with an incurable intestinal disease that will require her to be fed through a tube and on heavy medications the rest of her likely short life.

But her mom, Christy, refuses to give up. She finds a specialist in Boston, Dr. Nurko (Eugenio Derbez, who is excellent in the role), who is testing an experimental drug treatment for people with Abby's condition. If successful, she may be able to eat some solid food and not be in such constant pain. But the treatments and the travel between Texas and Massachusetts are terribly expensive, and Kevin already mortgaged the home to expand his veterinary practice. There are people who show kindness to the Beam family along the way -- specifically John Carroll Lynch's Pastor Scott and Queen Latifah's quirky waitress, Angela -- but credit cards have limits, as do people. When Dr. Nurko's drug treatments stop working, the end seems near for little Anna.

And that's when what many consider to be a miracle happened. If you are unfamiliar with the true-life story or book by Christy Beam that this film is based on, I won't spoil the film's third act here. I will say that the film is gently played and extremely well cast and acted. I liked that characters like Pastor Scott and Dr. Nurko were people who freely admit they don't have all the answers. They have ideas and opinions, beliefs and suppositions. But not concrete answers to questions like "Why does one person get cured when others don't?" or "Why is that person made to suffer and others aren't?"

It's a movie that honors the journey we're all on and seeks only to provide a ray of hope. I recently was part of a thread on Facebook where a bunch of movie geek friends and I celebrated our mutual love for "The Exorcist." I've always maintained that the classic 1973 fright-fest is effective because you legitimately feel the presence of real evil in the film. And if that's possible, the exact opposite can and should be as well in films where you can feel the presence of real and genuine goodness throughout. "Miracles From Heaven" is one of those films. I give it a 7 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed March 10, 2016 / Posted March 16, 2016


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