There is this stereotype of the Christian movie. It is filled with cheesy dialogue, exhausted stereotypes, and climatic scenes aimed at the insuring the audience has a "come to Jesus" moment, almost like an altar call surrounded by chewed gum, stale popcorn, and sticky floors. That is why I refuse to see them. I cannot stand the poor theology and the way Christians and non-Christians are portrayed.
Miracles from Heaven is a miracle in of itself. Gone are the stereotypical storylines, the barely-out-of-drama-club acting, and the evangelical message hidden behind self-serving branding -- maybe because it is based on a true story, or maybe because the production company has matured somewhat since previous films. Regardless, what is presented on the screen is a movie that is heart-wrenching, funny, and deeply Christian without presuming you will have a conversion experience merely by being in the audience. Rather, I am almost convinced that the targeted audience is not the supposed sinner or unbeliever, but the Christian who judges others for fallen towers as well as those who deny the power of God to act in their lives.
It is based on a true story, although if you've read the book, you'll note some differences. I haven't read the book, having only seen the movie (for one reason in particular). What I can tell you is that the acting is not your standard fare for these types of movies. This is one of Jennifer Garner's best. In Miracles, she portrays Christy Beam, the mother of little Annabel. This is very much Christy's story, a story of a believing mother who loses faith in a real way. How could you not in the same situation? When Beam (Garner) looks up to heaven and asks if God hears her, this is the cry of many of us, even those of us who will never experience the struggles she experienced. Garner's expressions throughout the movie were not merely that of an actor somehow managing to accurately cry or grimace, but that of a soul wounded by life. In a way her recent roles failed to achieve, Garner has easily reminded us of the reason why America fell in love with her beginning in Alias. She is a classic Hollywood actor, causing the audience to have an innate connection and care for whatever character she is on the screen. I hope she continues to reconnect with the American movie-going public.
Along with Garner is Kylie Rogers, playing Annabel Beam. Rogers's matter-of-fact expression and deliverance after the main event is as I expect a child to have. There are no weak points in the cast, and no wasted shots on the more famous ones.
I cannot help but watch this movie as a Wesleyan. I wasn't completely unable to divorce Garner from her own Wesleyan background, even knowing she was playing a Baptist. I listened intently to the recitation of The Lord's Prayer, coming at a pivotal moment in Miracles from Heaven -- listening for "trespasses." I listened intently for the real Christian experience of being angry at God, of losing faith, and of really and truly finding it. Garner/Beam's speech at the end addressed most accurately the topic of theodicy, without using that word, and should have a lasting impact on those who see it. Simply, the whole of the movie is representative of the Wesleyan view of the Christian journey -- not merely that of the role of sin and faith, but so too that of miracles and perhaps even life. There are no coincidences, only prevenient grace.
It will be tough to watch this movie for many. The trailer gives away the ending, but it is based on a book. It is tough because many of us don't know what it means to struggle like the Beams. Further, we may not believe in such acts by God. Or, we may find it difficult to connect, because the message -- if there is one -- is not about the sinner, but about the believer. However, the tears will flow thoroughly, unless you're like me and you don't cry at movies. Sure, my eyes watered a bit, but I never cried. I caught my breath several times. And when I left the theater, my neck and jaw were sore due to clenching the tears away. But the movie touched me down deep. Knowing Miracles from Heaven seems to be based on a true story gets me and doesn't let go. Regardless of the accuracy of the story behind it, Miracles is accurate on the way Christians act, for the good and the bad, and is accurate on Wesleyan theology. Sometimes, miracles are just random events or something that is nearly impossible to have happen but it does -- and does so scientifically. And maybe, miracles are simply those things that tells us God is still here.
Do yourself a favor and go see the movie.