When there is a cast of heavyweight actors, you know, at minimum, the movie is going to be incredibly acted, and if that satisfies the craving you have for a film, then so be it. However, if you’re looking for something more than powerhouse performances that are sure to ground and move you throughout the film, you hope the film has a little more stamina past them. That seems to be the downfall of Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s (Ordinary Decent Criminal) The Miracle Club. The movie is painfully pleasant and crowd pleasing, but doesn’t push any form of boundary and doesn’t particularly have anything significant to say, but the three leading ladies certainly hold their own and keep the audience engaged in this rather paint-by-numbers crowd-pleasing drama.
The film is a period piece that takes place in Ballygar, a city on the outskirts of Dublin (seems like someone is trying to make a movie that would appeal to McDonagh’s Banshees), focusing on a cast of three women and their priest, Father Dermot Byrne (Mark O’Halloran), whose church serves as a communal point as well as a place of worship. After being gone from Ballygar for nearly half a century, Chrissie (Laura Linney) returns to lay her mother to rest, and the past rears its ugly head front and center as she has some old wounds open as she runs into her former friend Eileen (Kathy Bates) and her mother’s best friend Lily (Maggie Smith). As these wounds are opened and try to be healed, Father Dermot decides to make the most unusual decision of combining Chrissie’s mom’s funeral with the annual church talent show, with a grand prize of a trip to Lourdes, France. While Lily and Eileen team up with Dolly (Agnes O’Casey) to be a singing trio, they only manage to unfortunately place second. However, the winner of the trip to Lourdes is moved by the women and decides to pass the trip to them, and Chrissie joins them on the trip to honor her mother.
The decisions behind the combination of the funeral and talent show, the bad blood between the three main women and, to an extent, Dolly, and the reasoning behind their desire to travel to Lourdes, are all rather convoluted. Yes, eventually the reasoning behind it all comes out, but the passive way it is told and the vaguely preachy walkabout this trip signifies is a little eye-roll inducing. Again though, the overarching general benign story is just that, surface emotions and meandering development with a message of forgiveness and hope that is pleasant enough to appease the audience and is only saved by the performances from the leading women.
Kathy Bates (Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret) shines throughout the movie as she delivers a powerful performance, even if the work she is given is less than enthusiastic and is muddled by some passive aggressive tendencies that are settled by a hot-button topic then and today for all the characters. However, Kathy does shine throughout and it is her performance that helps bring some gravitas to the film. Laura Linney (The Truman Show), who’s also always great, continues to be great in this as her character is trying, more than anything, to reconcile with someone she can’t. The grief turned into anger and eventual reconciliation, as previously mentioned, brings her arc to be the most fulfilled one of the story. Lastly, Maggie Smith (Sister Act) delivers arguably the most heartfelt performance of the three leads. Overall, everyone brought their A game to the production, but when the story itself spends too much of its time bouncing between points A, B, and C to then end up at point D, there is not enough to hold things together, even with strong performances to carry the audience to a satisfying point. The Miracle Club is suitable if you’re looking for some strong performances that get lost in the midst of a winding road of discovery and reconciliation that boasts some beautiful cinematography as well, ultimately leaving you with a feel-good film that scratches the surface more than diving deep.
In theaters July 14th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Sony Pictures Classics The Miracle Club webpage.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.