Do you believe in miracles? If so, “The Girl Who Believes in Miracles” will work for you. If you don’t, this won’t be the film to convince you that Jesus saves. Why? It’s not based on a true story. Even based on true stories, faith-based films, such as “Heaven Is for Real,” have a difficult time convincing anyone in the atheist and agnostic camps that faith has merit.
And why is that? A couple of reasons. The non-faithful hear it all as preachy and spewing nonscientific claims with zero proof, which grates on their nerves. My faith is hard-won; it took me 40 years of turning over every stone of research to reach my current level of rock-solid faith, so I do understand nonbeliever frustration.
Most people aren’t interested enough to put in however much time it takes to gather enough information to the point where common sense begins to override “scientific proof.” Or to study enough philosophy to understand that modern human science is itself a religion founded on its own particular brand of “I can’t explain it, I just believe it” faith. Or to become aware that many great scientific thinkers, like Einstein, went down the rabbit hole of science only to reemerge in the realm of religion.
Secondly—and this is my pet peeve with all religious and spiritual communities—the zealous enthusiasm to spread the truth as interpreted by that community often overwhelms the appreciation of the inherent level of difficulty involved in the art of storytelling, that is, in acting and directing. Most people think that acting is easy, and directing even more so. (Here’s an entire article about it.)
So when I hear that one of the film’s producers, 98-year-old Laurence Jaffe, with no prior storytelling experience decides to up and produce a faith-based film, not based on a true story, while part of me says “Good for him!” the rest of me knows there’s a deep lack of understanding here.
It’s this kind of “how hard could it be?” cluelessness regarding what it takes to achieve quality in film that results in the often hackneyed, amateur-hour productions that give the genre a bad name. “The Girl Who Believes in Miracles” has an impressive cast, and on paper director Rich Correll has an impressive résumé, which just goes to show how tricky it is to get a movie to work properly and speak to a wide audience. Which is what quality storytelling is capable of and ultimately supposed to do.
The whole point of making movies about religious topics is to spread the word and make it a gem of truth with the power to open people’s eyes, not just preach to the choir. But all in all, if you go to church regularly, you won’t have a problem with “The Girl Who Believes in Miracles” whatsoever.
Little Sara Hopkins (the extremely cute Austyn Johnson), while in church, takes to heart a sermon that states that if someone truly believes in God and his infinite power, then anything is possible and true faith can move mountains. Whereupon she soon discovers that she bears the gift of doing miraculous healings via prayer.
She brings a sparrow back from the dead. Her older brother Danny (Luke Harmon) felt no heartbeat and declared it dead. Sara prayed, looked across the lake, saw Jesus (in a T-shirt and jeans no less), and the little bird jumped out of her hand and flew away across the lake.
Then, Sara attends Danny’s high school soccer game and prays to God that Danny’s team wins. The other team does, however, and so she’s confused as to why her victory prayer wasn’t answered. Her granddaddy Sam Donovan (Peter Coyote) explains that prayers, while always answered, sometimes don’t get answered within our projected time frames or in the exact ways we imagine.
Then Sara heals her wheelchair-bound friend, Mark (Paul-Mikél Williams). One thing leads to another, and soon her miracles are stacking up like pancakes that the local press is eager to gobble. Cue media circus.
However, the more people Sara heals (oh, and there’s a run-over dog brought back to life), the weaker and sicker she gets. I knew a yoga instructor who once told me of a man who would go around healing the Park Avenue crowd for a pretty penny, using some kind of laying-on-of-hands technique. Apparently this person got weaker and sicker, too. Apparently this is a thing that happens. And so all that healing by Sara might explain why she eventually passes away. Is that a spoiler? No. Jesus figures heavily into this narrative, so there are still surprises and an abundance of miracles.
Suffice it to say, the highly skeptical local doctor (Kevin Sorbo) says Sara has a brain tumor. Cue massive grief and an 11th-hour attempt to kidnap Sara out of the hospital (masterminded by her Vietnam-vet granddad) and transport her in a rainstorm back out to the lake to see what Jesus might say—all of which is highly reminiscent of Doc Brown’s last-minute hectic attempt to get Marty McFly to the clock tower in time to trap lightning in the flux capacitor, generating 1.21 gigawatts of electricity and boomeranging the DeLorean back to the future.
Worth the Time?
The glaring problem here is that Sara basically stands in for Jesus, which can be confusing for children (and adults) because it’s positing that a human can faith-heal on par with the biblical Son of God. This could stymie a lot of kids’ budding faith if they sit around for hours trying to heal their dead gerbils and guinea pigs and experience a major fail.
Then again, for a strictly faith-based audience, it’s a perfectly fine story to tell as long as children understand that Sara’s story is an instance of higher powers demonstrating what humans with massive amounts of faith are capable of. Those extremely rare individuals who have that profound level of faith and purity can help facilitate the miracles of God.
Science is slowly catching up; quantum physics has demonstrated that atomic particles can emerge into existence out of nowhere by humans merely thinking about them. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.
‘The Girl Who Believes in Miracles’
Director: Rich Correll
Starring: Mira Sorvino, Austyn Johnson, Luke Hammon, Burgess Jenkins, Darryl Cox, Tommi Rose, Stephanie Cood
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG
Release Date: April 2, 2021
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars