Heaven Is for Real

Directed By: Randall Wallace

Starring: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Connor Corum, Jacob Vargas, Nancy Sorel, Thomas Haden Church, and Margo Martindale

It's been a big year for Christian moviegoers.  Though many balked at the prospect of Darren Aronofsky's biblical epic Noah, there have been a slew of other religious films aimed at churchgoing viewers.  Back in February, Jesus performed a miracle or two in Son of God.  In the month of March, Hercules became an atheist to debate the notion of a higher power in God's Not Dead.  This month, 4 year-old Nebraskan Colton Burpo drops his Spider-Man action figure and tells the whole world about his adventure up above in Heaven Is for Real.  While I certainly agree with the title, there are plenty of moments at which I disagree with director Randall Wallace's film.

Life is good for Crossroads Wesleyan Church Pastor Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) and his wife Sonja (Kelly Reilly) until it's not.  Things take a downward turn when Todd fractures his ankle while sliding to 3rd base in a local baseball game.  Things don't exactly get better for him when his kidney stones come back one Sunday while delivering a sermon.  Worst of all, Todd's 4 year-old son Colton (Connor Corum) faces what could be a deadly case of appendicitis.  Given all of this, his faith is tested in ways he cannot imagine.  Facing his own health crises and now the devastating potential loss of his only son, all Todd can do is ask God why.

Thanks to the grace of God, Colton goes under the surgical knife and survives.  Though Todd and Sonja don't technically lose their boy, even for a moment, Colton claims otherwise.  He claims that he separated from his body during the operation and went to heaven.  He even has some evidence in that he claims to have seen his mother on the phone with friends while his father was in the hospital chapel yelling at God.  Though Todd finds Colton's claims to be convincing, Sonja and the Crossroads Wesleyan congregation beg to differ.  In particular, longtime friends and church board members Jay Wilkins (Thomas Haden Church) and Nancy Rawling (Margo Martindale) lead the charge against their beloved pastor and his boy.  As they get to know more and more about Colton's adventure, however, they gradually come to see things Todd's way.

It's Holy Week.  Easter is upon us, churchgoing moviegoers are out and about, and I'm about to say some not-so-nice things about the movie many of you are probably going to see.  Randall Wallace's Heaven Is for Real is decently written, acted, and directed.  It met my overall expectations for the film based on everything I had seen in the marketing, though that's not to say that my expectations were sky high.  The film predictably tugs plenty of emotional heart strings.  As anticipated, it's chock full of ready-made messages on faith, morality, and what it means to be a Christian.  It even offers glimpses of heaven at exactly the expected moments.  This is all well-intentioned, but the film lacks depth.

In a film primed to offer some meaningful discussion on what it truly means to be a believer, we get nothing but the expected.  When doubt creeps into the characters' hearts, they get signs from God.  The clouds part.  The angels start singing.  Long lost loved ones make their presence felt in some form or fashion.  Glory hallelujah!  That's lovely for a movie, but that's not real.  If Heaven Is for Real is based on a true story, I expect something a little more grounded.  The vast majority of folks aren't going to experience some supernatural phenomenon of the heavens that allays their doubts and solidifies their beliefs.  When faced with a crisis as Todd Burpo is in Heaven Is for Real, exploring the power of faith when there is no sign would be far more impactful as a film.  More often than not, accepting the things not seen is what it truly means to be a believer.  In this respect, Wallace's Heaven Is for Real seriously drops the ball.

Heaven Is for Real doesn't rise to the heights of cinema, but it's a decent movie.  High on emotion, the film lacks a certain poignancy and realism.  The faith-based drama gets a 0.06% rating.  Have a few glasses of Chardonnay with this one.