This is the Jennifer Garner we love.
I mean, sure, Garner has stretched herself as an actress and gone against type on occasion but, if we're being completely honest, this type of role, as a loving and fiercely protective mother and woman of faith, is exactly what sends our hearts aflutter when it comes to Jennifer Garner.
You're absolutely lying if you say that your heart didn't break when you read a few months ago about Garner's divorce from Ben Affleck, a marriage that may have seemed weird at first but one that, because we love Garner so much, we really wanted to see work.
The truth is that even when we don't go see her films, America loves Jennifer Garner.
It would be nearly impossible to not love Jennifer Garner as Christy Beam, a Texas mother whose seemingly idyllic life is thrown into chaos when her little girl, 10-year-old Anna (Kylie Rogers, television's The Whispers), suddenly begins getting very ill with very little explanation.
"It's a good life," we regularly hear Christy say to her husband, Kevin (Martin Henderson, Everest), a successful veterinarian whose life with Christy is seemingly blessed with three beautiful children including Anna, Abbie (Brighton Sharbino) and Adelynn (Courtney Fansler). They attend a local spirit-filled congregation pastored by Pastor Scott (John Carroll Lynch) and live into a faith that is certainly front-and-center in Miracles From Heaven yet is more immersive in than dominating of the story that unfolds.
The story that unfolds is really relatively simple - Anna's sickness worsens with doctor after doctor failing to provide an accurate diagnosis. When the accurate diagnosis finally arrives, courtesy of a compassionate yet self-assured Dr. Burgi (Bruce Altman), the news isn't good and this lifelong family of faith is left to question God, their faith and just about everything else.
After all, what kind of a God would allow a child to not only die from a catastrophic illness but also suffer immensely along the way?
Inspired by actual events and based upon Beam's own book about the events, Miracles from Heaven soars largely on the strength of Jennifer Garner's warm, vulnerable and immensely convincing performance as Christy, whose dedication to finding a cure for her daughter is relentless as is her sense of awe, and this isn't a spoiler, when a potentially tragic accident leads to a rather miraculous occurrence that left doctors unable to explain it and the Beam family restored and their community inspired.
This is precisely the kind of warm and winning performance that Garner seems to do so effortlessly, partly owing to her gosh darn likability and partly owing to her absolute ability to find authenticity and naturalism even when the occasional line betrays her. It helps that she has a wonderful, natural chemistry with young Kylie Rogers, a young but veteran actress whose performance is youthful yet emotionally honest.
The film is directed by Patricia Riggen, who will likely be familiar to Heartland Film Festival audiences for last year's film The 33 but whose biggest success likely would be Under the Same Moon, a little gem of a film if you haven't seen it. Riggen infuses the film with an abundance of heart and warmth and has a nice touch when it comes to bringing the film's faith to life in a way that should hold tremendous crossover appeal for audiences.
Martin Henderson shines as Kevin, while John Carroll Lynch provides another of the film's highlights as Pastor Scott, whose spirit-filled congregation is one of those you've likely seen with contemporary worship and sermons that make Scripture accessible by appealing to all the senses. There are times that Miracles From Heaven starts to derail, but Garner keeps it feeling so honest and Riggen seems to have the instinct for when to pull back in just the right moments.
If you're worried that Miracles From Heaven is going to be something along the lines of The Young Messiah, rest assured that it's not. It also, at least for the most part, avoids the excessive preachiness often identify with such films as God's Not Dead or the Kendrick Brother films, though I'll openly admit to being a fan of the Kendricks. Miracles From Heaven is different. It's a film, first and foremost, about a family AND this happens to be a devout family of faith. My sense is that Riggen trusted the material enough to know that she didn't need the film to preach - the story is miraculous enough.
Eugenio Derbez, as a Boston-based specialist, and Queen Latifah, as a waitress who doles out some humor and some wisdom, give the film a good majority of its lighter moments, especially in the second half, though there were a couple of times the tonal shift felt a tad abrupt and not particularly earned. Fortunately, these moments are relatively short and easily forgiven.
I also appreciated that Miracles From Heaven had the conviction to acknowledge that sometimes church can be a mighty unsafe place to be when we expect a miracle that doesn't always arrive. The Beam family deals with having their own faith questioned when Anna doesn't heal and, alternately, when something seemingly miraculous occurs it brings the cynics to the forefront.
As people of faith, myself included, I'm sure that many of us can identify with those moments when our church "family" didn't live up to everything we needed it to be.
Miracles From Heaven, which is a film that even Garner herself has acknowledged got her taking her children back to church, is the kind of film that will affirm the faith of believers yet even non-churchgoers will find much to love here with lessons about hope, friendship, family and simply never giving up on one another. As we prepare to head into the Easter weekend, Miracles From Heaven is a cinematic reminder that miracles do, indeed, happen.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic