Too often, we’re so involved in our own lives. Our self-involvement results from closing ourselves off to the world or being cast out. We don’t get the opportunity to understand why; we accept what is, harden our skins, and move on, leading us to find our opportunities elsewhere; a theme that Thaddeus O’Sullivan explores in The Miracle Club, featuring Laura Linney, Kathy Bates, Maggie Smith, and Stephen Rea.
O’Sullivan is intent on exploring this theme in a variety of ways that don’t always come together. Chrissie (Linney) was cast aside from the community at 19, having emigrated to Boston. She never spoke with her mom again before her death. Her mom’s friends, Eileen Dunn (Bates) and Lily Fox (Smith), are shocked at her return, not bothering to understand why. The script from Jimmy Smallhorne, Timothy Prager, and Joshua D. Maurer eventually unravels the underpinnings of the relationship between Chrissie, Eileen, Lily, and Dolly (Agnes O’Casey), each struggling with their own personal crises, mostly in part due to their hardened skins.
Eileen, Lily, and Dolly turn to the church for guidance, a deeply rooted commitment from when the film is set. Christie’s mom was selected to join a small band of parishioners on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. O’Sullivan, Smallhorne, Prager, and Maurer drop hints about what makes the characters tick and the differences in lifestyles between Ireland and the United States. The fabric they weave for the characters makes them attractive but doesn’t exactly exude excitement. It is an adult-oriented drama, so it is safe to say that The Miracle Club knows which audience it will appeal to.
In short, the individual ladies have a crisis of faith that they feel a church-sponsored trip to France would sort out. At the film’s start, each character, including Chrissie, is so self-involved that the hate for one another, and their lots in life, have wrought upon them. There is an active choice not to recognize the differences that define what makes us human; O’Sullivan builds empathy and, to an extent, sympathy for the characters. However, he does so little with it, that it renders the story’s themes flat and unconvincing.
The journey these four women take, first to rediscover each other and, in the process, rediscover themselves, has been explored in two other films from 2023, 80 For Brady and Book Club: The Next Chapter, both of which use far more humor to explore their themes, engaging their audiences, while The Miracle Club buries the sorely needed spirit.
The one bit of drama that stood out involves Eileen, Lily, and Dolly, who are married. Their relationships are fraught with demands placed on the women, and when they decide to take the trip against their husbands’ wishes, antics do ensue. In our modern age, reflecting on a different time, it’s surprising that the “nuclear family” survived. “You can’t leave; who’ll tend to the children? Who’ll cook for me?”
This first revelation between the couples and their affected children rang very loudly in the story. Each character plays their role with conviction; with that, The Miracle Club has a conviction to its end.
The journey toward Lourdes and the time spent in a gorgeous French church is where Bates and Smith have the opportunity to shine; however, the film isn’t interested in what the actresses are capable of., their sardonic wit is mumbled at points; the dialog gets lost to the background. Linney is rock steady in her performance as she seeks a reason to join the ladies on the trip. At first, Chrissie doesn’t feel she belongs with the rest of the group; wise words from the local priest convince her otherwise, bringing us to the second revelation, that of absolution, which the story spends far more time on, with satisfying if not entirely convincing results. Linney’s character feels very stonewalled, giving the film a consistent feeling. The story, as well-endowed with its themes, knows where it wants to go, how to get there, and how to get back, not leaving many surprises for the audience.
Consistency in storytelling is critical, and if a desire to see Bates and Smith is all it takes to get audiences to see the film in theaters, all the more power to it. The Miracle Club doesn’t hold any surprises, though; the opportunities O’Sullivan builds into the story are examined, given a deft courtesy, and then released. Why is it that I suddenly feel castigated? At least the script was coherent.
The Miracle Club features a strong ensemble that isn’t fully utilized in a thematically unbalanced yet coherent script. The themes ring more authentic than expected. The fact that the story knew where it wanted to go without taking any detours while squandering opportunities ultimately rings hollow.
The Miracle Club
Directed by Thaddeus O’ Sullivan
Written by Jimmy Smallhorne, Timothy Prager, and Joshua D. Maurer, based on a story by Jimmy Smallhorne
Starring Laura Linney, Kathy Bates, Maggie Smith, Stephen Rea, Agnes O’Casey, Brenda Fricker
PG-13, 91 minutes, Sony Pictures Classics