A certain sense of joy comes from watching veteran actresses play characters who embark on a journey to a bucket list destination in hopes of changing their lives. From Book Club: The Next Chapter to 80 for Brady, these films admirably provide space for their actresses to collaborate (sometimes for the first time in their storied careers) while also aiming to create nothing more than sweet, easy-watching experiences for audiences. The latest entry in this cinematic subgenre, The Miracle Club, succeeds in giving viewers a feel-good story but, unfortunately, finds itself stuck between trying to create an inspiring tale of reconciliation and a more profound commentary on generational guilt and repression.
Directed by Thaddeus O’Sullivan (Nothing Personal, Stella Days), The Miracle Club begins in 1967 in Ballygar, a working-class community in Dublin. There, three friends from different generations, Lily and Eileen (Academy Award winners Maggie Smith and Kathy Bates, respectively), and Dolly (Agnes O’Casey), dream of going on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, led by their parish priest, Father Dermot Byrne (Mark O’Halloran). For these women and Catholics worldwide, Lourdes is a place where miracles happen (i.e., The Song of Bernadette), and each woman has her own reason for wanting to reach this destination. Lily harbors guilt for meddling in her deceased son’s life years ago, Eileen hasn’t visited the doctor and is worried about a lump in her breast, and Dolly hopes her young son will soon speak.
In order to attend the trip, the three women decide to compete in the talent show at the church fundraiser, where the winning act will receive complimentary tickets to Lourdes. One of the most delightful scenes from the movie follows when Lily, Eileen, and Dolly perform “He’s So Fine” by The Chiffons as a ‘60s girl group in matching mod dresses. Bates is absolutely committed in this scene as the frontwoman, with Smith and O’Casey singing backup. Much like the syrupy sweet moment in Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast when Jamie Dornan’s character Pa performs “Everlasting Love,” this Irish vocal performance is inexplicably linked to the death of a community member. Father Byrne combined the Lourdes fundraiser with the funeral of Ballygar staple, Maureen. The funeral prompts Maureen’s daughter Chrissie (Academy Award nominee Laura Linney) to return to Ireland for the first time in forty years. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that Chrissie didn’t leave for America of her own volition; she was banished instead.
Linney is expectedly excellent as Chrissie, believably carrying the emotional weight of a person who left home decades ago and is forced to face the people who made her leave. While it’s evident in many ways that Chrissie was better off starting a new, independent life in Boston and leaving behind her cloistered community, it’s clear that she’s still holding onto the pain of her past. Chrissie’s arrival draws up old wounds, specifically with Lily and Eileen. Lily was Maureen’s best friend and the mother of Declan, Chrissie’s teenage love many years prior. Eileen and Chrissie were friends growing up but have since both felt betrayed by each other. So, when Chrissie reluctantly decides to attend the trip to Lourdes with Lily, Eileen, and Dolly in her late mother’s stead, complicated feelings arise between the women. For Chrissie, though, she isn’t necessarily seeking reconciliation from the other women. Instead, she seemingly ventures to Lourdes to find absolution for her strained relationship with her late mother.
The script, penned by Jimmy Smallhorne, Timothy Prager, and Joshua D. Maurer, feels primarily concerned with creating a feel-good story and only scratches the surface of some of the rather intense topics revealed by the characters. Ambiguity is often a strength in screenplays, but here, too many threads are introduced that feel carelessly neglected. For example, a sharper script would have dug into Lily and Eileen’s identities as devout Catholics and interrogated the hypocrisy of their severe judgment towards Chrissie. Lily and Eileen are also both bitter grudge-holders, so it’s odd that their decades-long conflicts find rather hurried resolutions. The film never finds a consistent tone, oscillating between over-the-top comedy leading up to their trip abroad and a dramatic exploration of inner and outer healing. The comedic scenes with the women’s husbands are also bizarre, as these characters are written as paper-thin caricatures of incompetent men who can’t accomplish basic tasks like changing a diaper or making dinner for their families. Through these moments, it becomes beyond evident that these women have dedicated their lives to staying at home to take care of their families and that they finally deserve some time for themselves. Still, that theme isn’t meaningfully explored, especially in contrast to Chrissie’s independence.
While The Miracle Club feels more committed to reaching a heartwarming, preachy conclusion about forgiveness than thoughtfully exploring its themes, audiences can still be charmed by its beautiful visuals and strong lead performances.
Sony Pictures Classics will release The Miracle Club only in theaters on July 14.