A couple of months ago, I received an invitation to view an advanced screening of Miracles From Heaven in Little Rock. Having not been familiar with the movie or its source (supposedly a true story), I was interested to at least investigate. What I discovered was that this movie was produced by the same folks that produced the film version of Heave Is For Real. This immediately kick-started the critic in me. But, despite there being other suspect personalities, particularly of the Word Of Faith and hyper-spiritualist camp (most notably, T.D. Jakes), I was willing to at least “suffer through” the film for the sake of honesty.
So along comes yesterday eveing. I took my elder daughter, Anna along as back-up. We arrived a bit early, and found that Columbia/Sony really is pulling out the stops to promote this “Christian Faith-based film” (the reps’ own words). Not only were baggies with poster, pen, and other material (including the ubiquitous comment card and church sponsorship/promotion request), but they handed out pretty t-shirts!
On to the film:
Based on what is billed as a true story, the film retells the story of Annabelle Beam and her journey through a terminal diagnosis and what is considered a miraculous healing. Annabelle (or Anna), middle daughter three Beam children is a vibrant youngster full of energy and life (and faith) when she get sick. After weeks of ongoing vomiting, a swelling abdomen, many visits to the ER, and various specialists, receiving diagnosis varying from bacteria and viruses to lactose intolerance, mom gets desperate and finally pushes an ER doctor into digging deeper. What they finally find is that she has a motility disorder. Basically her digestive tract is not receiving the signals from the brain and thus are essentailly shut down. Young Anna is referred to the only pediatric Doctor specializing in this disorder (as yet incurable). But this doctor in Boston (the Beams live in Texas) has a 9 month waiting list and Anna doesn’t appear to have that long. In desperation, Mrs. Beam takes Anna to Boston without an appointment, makes a desperate plea to the receptionist, but apparently comes up short. At dinner, they meet Angela, a waitress (played by Queen Latifa), who befriends them. They have an adventure touring Boston with Angela as their tour guide, beginning a friendship that serves as a great help in the ongoing struggle. Sure enough,my he Pediatrician’s office gets Anna in the next day and after a series of tests, the specific diagnosis is confirmed, and is the worst- the disorder might be manageable (the experimental medication has serious possible side effects and is not covered by insurance), and it only provides some quality of life, not a cure.
Things improve a bit for little Anna until she goes into serious relapse and in her faith actually says she wants to die so she can be go to Heaven where she won’t hurt any more.
Anna is stabilized enough to go home to Texas. Her older sister talks her into climbing the massive old cottonwood tree in their yard. An accident happens, with Anna falling 30ft. A dramatic rescue ensues, Anna is rushed the the hospital where they find not only that she is nearly unscathed, but they find over the course of the next few days, her digestive disorder is gone.
Now- on to the nitty gritty-
This film is family-friendly from the point of the lack of violence, adult content, language, etc.
There is a great deal of positive in the film, with my personal favorite being the overall family dynamic where the parents and children have a very loving and self-sacrificing relationship. The film also does portray the very real battle people of faith have with the hardships that life throws at us (in the case of the Beam family thisnwoukdninclude not only Anna’s sickness, but a new start-up business and serious financial issues made worse by the care costs for Anna).
But there is plenty of reasons to not endorse this film. The film depicts several unscriptural theological concepts, including g out-of-body experience, trips to Heaven and direct verbal visits with God “in Heaven”). Even more concerning was a briefly mentioned, but blatantly-heretical moment (reinforced by the emotion of the scene) that implied everyone gets to Heaven “in their time”.
I found it rather interesting that the Beam’s church pastor was depicted (I’m sure unintentionally) as rather shallow in his preaching, and it even results in some church members making some off-handed judgments against the Beams (which contributes to Christy Beam “losing faith”), and thus withdrawing from church attendance.
The producers of this film are well-acquainted with tugging at heart strings, and you will likely need most of a box of tissues by the end. What I found particularly interesting (and encouraging) was that my 11 year-old daughter easily identified the questionable theology, and herself expressed concern over the universalist statement. I must say I am very proud of my own Anna!
Long story short, I am not going to discount the apparent fact that the main character was a very sick young lady, who was out of options, and who, after a terrifying fall, went into “spontaneous remission”. For that matter, I have no issue with the assertion that life is a miracle, or that God works out small “miracles” all around us every day. I firmly believe that God is still in the healing business. But when you ad I what a child “saw” and her supposed conversation with God in Heaven as as factual as any other observable fact, throwing in magic butterflies and out-of-body experiences and a promotion of universalism, I just cannot recommend the film. I will say, Martin Hendedson did an admirable job portraying Kevin Beam. Jennifer Garner at times was believable as Anna’s mom, Christy Beam. The young ladies playing Anna’s sisters were adorable. Queen Latifa’s character, Angela, is immediately like able, even if not very plausible. The other fun character is the pediatrician Dr. Nurko (played by Engenio Derbez).