There comes a time in every family’s life when something happens to test the limits of their love.
For the Beams, the test came when their middle daughter, Anna, was stricken with two rare and devastating digestive disorders.
The Burleson family’s story has been well-documented in media reports and the 2015 book Miracles From Heaven, penned by Anna’s mom, Christy Beam.
For the uninitiated, here’s the spoiler alert: In December 2011, Anna fell headfirst into a hollow cottonwood tree. After a six-hour rescue, she came away unscathed: no broken bones, no injuries and seemingly healed from the disorders that afflicted her. The girl later told the story of meeting God in heaven, who told her: “You have to go back, Anna. It’s not your time.”
The film adaptation tells the true-life tale of the Beams with such intensity and urgency that a box of tissues may not be enough to keep up with the water works.
The movie introduces us to the seemingly idyllic world of the Beams pre-diagnosis. The churchgoing family owns a sprawling Burleson property filled with dogs, cows and green pastures. While husband Kevin (Martin Henderson) prepares to open a veterinary clinic, mom Christy (Jennifer Garner) runs the show at home, keeping track of their three daughters: Abbie (Brighton Sharbino), Anna (Kylie Rogers) and Adelynn (Courtney Fansler). She even micromanages bedtime prayers by asking each girl what they prayed about.
When Anna, short for Annabel, begins to show symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as pseudo-obstruction motility disorder and antral hypomotility disorder, the family’s life is turned upside down. Along the way, the family gets much-needed support from a Boston waitress (Queen Latifah), who provides comic relief in the tense storyline, and a kind and cooky expert physician, Dr. Samuel Nurko (a delightful Eugenio Derbez).
In Miracles, Riggen keeps the pace of the film intense, allowing the tale to unfold chronologically so the audience feels the ebb and flow of a family in crisis.
The story also gives a balanced interpretation of faith. Faith isn’t a commitment, but a struggle. And the struggle is real for the Beam family, which is evident by Garner’s nuanced, emotional portrayal of the matriarch’s roller-coaster ride with religion.
Garner told the Star-Telegram in a recent interview that she didn’t “see it as a faith-based film.”
“It’s about family that drew from faith in their life. … This is something that gets them through this,” Garner said.
And yet, it is fairly evident that this is a faith-based film. It is co-produced by Dallas pastor T.D. Jakes and Franklin Entertainment, which previously released 2014’s Heaven Is for Real. Major moments in the film are set in church, and even little Anna’s middle name is, fittingly, Faith.
Those who may be turned off by a faith-based film should keep an open mind and heart.
There’s a pivotal moment in the movie and the book when Anna (played with such maturity by Rogers) is fraught with unspeakable pain and tells her mother: “I just want to die.” It’s a moment that hits hard to anyone who has ever held a loved one’s hand in a hospital.
In a 2015 Star-Telegram interview, Christy Beam said, “Every parent can relate, even if their child doesn’t have a chronic illness, because there’s always some kind of struggle that requires courage and faith.”
Whether you are a believer or a not, there’s no denying the power of a family’s love.
Miracles From Heaven
☆☆☆ (out of five)
Director: Patricia Riggen
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Queen Latifah, Martin Henderson, John Carroll Lynch, Kylie Rogers, Eugenio Derbez
Rated: PG (thematic material, including accident and medical issues)
Running time: 109 min.