There is a broad range to the genre of faith-based movies. Some, such as “The Passion of Christ,” are deeply entrenched in religion. Others, such as “Risen,” use religion only as a base for a larger story. And still others, like “God Is Not Dead,” are a pulpit away from being a Sunday service.
Then there are films such as “Miracles From Heaven.” Just like the 2014 release “Heaven Is for Real,” the film takes a look at religion through the eyes of a family facing a tragedy that results in a miracle. These kind of movies closely examine the frailties and ferocity of faith.
That approach for “Miracles From Heaven” leaves the movie less a sermon and more a deeply moving story about family and faith. This gives the production a potentially broader appeal that should get it more attention than just from the choir.
The production, based on a true story, looks at 10-year-old Anna Beam (Kylie Rogers), a Texas girl diagnosed with an incurable intestinal problem. She cannot process food, which leaves her in horrible pain. Initially, doctors don’t know what is wrong, and once they discover the problem are helpless to do anything.
Her mother, Christy (Jennifer Garner), refuses to give up and battles to get her daughter the best care possible. Even after seeing the top doctor in the country, there appears to be no hope. That changes when the girl is hurt in an accident that leaves her with no medical issues and a recounting of her trip to heaven.
Director Patricia Riggen, who showed great skill with 2007’s “Under the Same Moon,” and writer Randy Brown use faith as an accent to the story, not the driving force. Most of the discussions of the little girl’s experiences in heaven are confined to the final moments of the movie.
There are some church scenes and Christy’s struggles with her own faith, but generally the story leans more on family. This approach gives Rogers and Garner plenty of opportunities to play out heavy emotional scenes. There’s a scene in a Boston hospital when Anna reaches her breaking point and tells her mother she wants to die.
This kind of scene is tough to play, especially with children, because it is so easy to slip into melodrama. Young Rogers and veteran Garner find the exact tone for a scene that is beautifully directed by Riggen.
It’s the mother-daughter moments that make “Miracles From Heaven.” Eugenio Derbez turns in a spirited and smart performance as Dr. Nurko. But the rest of the supporting cast is hampered by not having as many good scenes to play.
Queen Latifah’s role as a stranger who befriends the mother and daughter when they travel to Boston is sweet but comes across a little disconnected from the rest of the film. The same goes for Martin Henderson’s work as the father and Brighton Sharbino and Courtney Fansler, who play Anna’s siblings.
“Miracles From Heaven” finds a larger strength because it doesn’t focus on the major miracle of the girl’s recovery. It’s strong because it revels in the little miracles – a kind act, a show of generosity, an unselfish move – that happen on a constant basis all around us.
Even if the idea of a religious movie leaves you cold, the film is still incredibly moving because it’s a reminder of the strength parents must have and how life is made up of small acts of kindness that happen on a daily basis.
Miracles From Heaven
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers, Martin Henderson, Queen Latifah, Eugenio Derbez.
Director: Patricia Riggen
PG (thematic material)
Opens: Wednesday, March 16