Like Finding Nemo, it's hard not to watch Miracles from Heaven without feeling that you think you know how it's going to end. It's something that really annoys me, and as I sat down with my family to watch the preview, I half wished I was somewhere else. But the film quickly won me over. It's based on the true story of a 10-year-old girl with a rare and incurable gastric condition, and how her family, church, friends and medical community support her in different ways through it. The ending was – surprisingly – much better than I expected. Let me give you five spoiler-free reasons to watch this film with your family, and maybe even invite some others to come along too.
1. It is genre-appropriate
I watch a lot of family-friendly movies with my younger children. Whether it's Furry Vengeance, Parent Trap or Game Plan, you expect to laugh and to cry and for all the threads to neatly tie up at the end. This a similar feel-bad, feel-good movie. It's suitable for watching with your granny or your children, and the ending isn't cringe-worthily neat, but it is genuinely moving and you will be pleased you saw it through. Miracles from Heaven fits its genre well. You wouldn't take a hardened atheist to see it in the hope of a cinema-seat conversion, but you should take your family, friends and a pack of tissues.
2. Big questions
For a family movie the film tackles some pretty big issues. Terminal childhood disease, unanswered prayer, church-based hypocrisy, depression, family tensions and the seemingly random nature of the miraculous. Many of those issues are explored from the different perspectives of the parent, siblings, medics, the child at the centre and those on the periphery. At the end of the film it was very natural to have a meaningful conversation with my children about what happens when we pray and why things don't always work out the way that we would hope.
Church can be a brutal place. Sometimes the callousness and shallowness of members of the congregation make it more difficult to believe in God. For a film with a clear Christian message, it is very honest about the flaws in church life. There are also some cameos that show church at its best, such as the moment Annabel is rushed into emergency surgery and the pastor takes time to wait with the family, entertaining her siblings and praying with them. I felt it gave viewers a realistic impression of what church life is really like and was a real strength of the movie.
There are a lot of dystopian films in our cinemas at the moment – not just at a global level (think Divergent or Maze Runner), but at a personal one too, such as the controversial Me before You. Miracles from Heaven offers another way to deal with sickness and death. One obvious parallel would be The Fault in Our Stars, which balanced the heaviness of the theme of childhood cancer with great witty dialogue and some beautiful imagery. Miracles from Heaven has a younger and an older audience in mind, aiming to be accessible to children and their parents, and so deals with similar issues of mortality but in a far gentler way, and with a much more hopeful worldview.
5. The cast
I am a huge fan of Mac Powell's voice and the Third Day front man has a couple of set pieces in the movie that are excellent. I know Mac has a passion for helping vulnerable children and so it was great to see him get an even wider audience.
Jennifer Garner does a great job as the mother at the centre of the drama and harnesses unstoppable determinism with fragility and sincerity. I was also impressed by the young actresses Brighton Sharbino, Courtney Fansler and a particularly strong Kylie Rogers at the heart of the story.
'Miracles from Heaven' will be released on UK cinemas on June 10. For free offical film resources, click here.