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Movie Review

Hoping against hope in ‘Miracles From Heaven’

From left: Jennifer Garner, Queen Latifah, and Kylie Rogers in “Miracles From Heaven.”
From left: Jennifer Garner, Queen Latifah, and Kylie Rogers in “Miracles From Heaven.”Chuck Zlotnick/Columbia Pictures/Columbia Pictures

In a scene in Patricia Riggen’s fact-based “Miracles From Heaven,” Christy Beam (Jennifer Garner) asks the pastor of her church why a loving God would strike her 10-year-old daughter, Anna (Kylie Rogers), with an incurable, agonizing disease. Like many clergyman before him, he has no answer. He tells her she must have faith. Look at all the strangers doing kind things for her that she doesn’t notice. These miracles happen every day, if only we’d open our eyes to see them.

Beam’s skepticism and bitterness come as relief after all the smiley pieties that precede it. But it does not make her ultimate return to the fold any more impressive. Unlike millions of other parents with suffering children who don’t even have Queen Latifah as one of those everyday miracle workers, Beam gets the real thing. Her daughter achieves “spontaneous remission” — doctor talk for “we have no idea what happened.”

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Riggen has no shame when it comes to jerking the tears — surging music, cute children, suffering children — and sometimes her manipulations work even on the hardest of hearts. She also tries to broaden her base by calling out the hypocrisy and mean-mindedness of smug Christians and putting in a good word for the rational humanists among us. One thing she should probably work on — and so could this entire series of Christian-themed movies from Sony’s Affirm Films branch — is the comedy (though “Risen” had a few snickers). The jokey pastor and the Patch Adams wannabe pediatrician should lose the schtick.

Garner, on the other hand, brings grit, passion, and nuance to her performance. Her Beam perseveres until she sees the best specialist in the country. He can’t help either, so time for a little faith-based medicine.

Her determination and faith are inspiring, but perhaps less so than the resourcefulness of the parents in George Miller’s “Lorenzo’s Oil” (1993), also based on a true story. When doctors can’t help their ailing son, they don’t just pray, they research a cure themselves. Except for the lucky few who win the miracle lottery, God helps those who help themselves.

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★ ★

MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN

Directed by Patricia Riggen. Written by Randy Brown; based on the book by Christy Beam. Starring Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers, Queen Latifah. At Boston Common, suburbs. 105 minutes. PG (for thematic material, including accident and medical images).


Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.