‘Miracles’ could have been 30 seconds long

by Mark Jenkins

Mexican-born, California-based director Patricia Riggen has developed something of a specialization in marvels. Just a few months ago, her fact-based drama “The 33” celebrated the combination of technology and luck that saved 33 Chilean miners who had become trapped deep underground. In 2007, Riggen’s “Under the Same Moon” sent a young Mexican boy across the U.S. border on a providential quest for his mother.

With her latest film, Riggen has gone fully supernatural: In “Miracles from Heaven,” a little girl receives medical care from the doctor upstairs.

The movie is based on a 2015 memoir by Christy Beam, whose daughter made a most unusual recovery from a severe gastrointestinal condition. It was produced by the team that made “Heaven is for Real,” adapted from a similar account of a child’s religious experience. The new film should draw the same sort of admirers – and detractors – as the earlier one.

Religious belief aside, “Miracles” is the weaker of the two films. Stretched across nearly two hours, it tells a story that would have been adequately laid out in a 30-second television spot. The question is never what will happen to Anna (Kylie Rogers), who suffers a bloated belly and chronic pain. The only issue is how long she, and the audience, will have to wait to find out.

When the film begins, Anna is living with her mother (Jennifer Garner), her father (Martin Henderson) and two sisters on a Texas ranch. The family attends one of those Protestant churches that seems to have traded the choir for a Christian-rock band.

In this somewhat fictionalized account, Anna’s affliction arrives suddenly. A series of condescending doctors misdiagnose the problem, until Christy becomes angry and despondent. She even stops going to church.

Eventually, Christy takes her daughter to Boston Children’s Hospital, pushing past others on the waiting list for an appointment with the leading expert, Dr. Nurko (Eugenio Derbez).

Although Nurko makes Anna somewhat better, a lasting cure would require one of two things: divine intercession or a fluke. The movie’s title has already telegraphed its choice.

The plight of ailing children and desperate parents can touch the hearts of anyone who has a kid, or who has been one. But the movie is stuffed with filler, notably an annoying interlude with a Waitress with a Heart of Gold, played by Queen Latifah in a case of racial stereotyping.

While waiting for the advertised miracle, some viewers may wish for divine intervention of another sort – not from this movie’s God, who appears as a delicate butterfly, but from the cranky Old Testament one. He could sweep away the cardboard supporting characters as easily as he did the Egyptians in the Red Sea.

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