Review: The Miracle Club — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

The transcendent performances of this dream cast are alternately hilarious and heartbreaking, and they know how to perfectly modulate their performances so the transitions between the two extremes are not neck-snapping.

The Miracle Club (Jonathan Hession/Sony Pictures Classics)

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The Miracle Club

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Rating: PG-13

Run Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

Stars: Laura Linney, Kathy Bates, Maggie Smith

Writers: Joshua D. Maurer, Timothy Prager, Jimmy Smallhorne

Director: Thaddeus O’Sullivan

Reviewed at the Tribeca Film Festival


If The Miracle Club, a sweet-natured chronicle of lovable Irish Catholic women making a pilgrimage to Lourdes, doesn’t warm the cockles of your heart, then I’m sorry, there is no hope for you and you should probably just consign yourself to watching WWE cage matches for the rest of your life.

It’s a film without a mean bone in its body, populated by good people who put their private trials aside so they can tend to those of their friends and loved ones; by well-meaning souls who are not above learning life lessons, no matter what their ages, and putting them into practice.

Also, we get to see Kathy Bates crooning “He’s So Fine” in a church talent show, with 88-year-old Maggie Smith shimmying behind her as a backup singer. That alone, dear reader, is worth the price of admission, and then some.

For those who did not spend eight years in Catholic parochial school, Lourdes is a town in France where, the faithful say, Mary the mother of Jesus appeared to a young girl named Bernadette in 1858. Since that time, Lourdes — and especially the grotto where the apparition occurred — has been a destination for believers seeking cures for afflictions of all kinds.

The setting is 1967, a time when Ireland was still in the thrall of Roman Catholic orthodoxy. Bates is Eileen, joining a busload of hopeful parishioners in hopes that Our Lady of Lourdes will cure her of a lump she’s got so she won’t have to show it to a doctor. Smith is her friend Lily, an 80-something not interested in asking the Blessed Mother to correct her short leg syndrome, but who’s making the trip to offer moral support to young mother Agnes (doe-eyed Agnes O’Casey), whose seven-year-old son has never spoken a word. All three of them are heading off to France in defiance of their hopelessly chauvinistic husbands, who are mostly concerned about who is going to cook for them while they’re gone.

Finally, there’s Chrissie, played with steely-eyed resolve by Laura Linney. A resentful middle-aged woman, she has returned to the village for her mother’s funeral, decades after leaving for the U.S. under shadowy circumstances, following a tragic breakup with Lily’s late son. At first it makes no sense that Chrissie is heading for Lourdes with the very women she bitterly left behind a lifetime ago, but we soon learn she’s seeking healing of a quite different kind.

Not a lot happens in The Miracle Club; the women work out their issues while, in the process, revealing the backstories that made them who they are. The vignettes are alternately hilarious and heartbreaking, and the cast knows how to perfectly modulate their performances so the transitions between the two extremes are not neck-snapping.

Most affecting is Smith, who breathes a warm vulnerability into the role of Lily. Long one of our most talented screen actors, Smith has for the past decade or so seldom been asked to portray anything other than stern, sharp-tongued matriarchs (Exhibits One, Two, and Three: Downton Abbey, the Harry Potter movies, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). Granted, nobody does that better, but here we are reminded of Smith’s extraordinary range. My one complaint about The Miracle Club is that director Thaddeus O’Sullivan (and how’s that for an all-Irish name?), a veteran of British TV crime dramas, often seems a bit too much in a rush to get to the next scene. But he has the good sense to let the camera roll for Smith in a pivotal scene, alone in a room with Chrissie, that positively aches with long-term heartbreak.

In the end, whether the ladies of The Miracle Club encounter any actual miracles remains an open question. For the audience, though, the transcendent performances of a dream cast provide signs and wonders enough.

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