Review: “Heaven is for Real” is a test of faith

April 24th, 2014 at 10:57 pm by under Entertainment
"Heaven is for Real" poster courtesy Sony Pictures Releasing

“Heaven is for Real” poster courtesy Sony Pictures Releasing

“Heaven is for Real” (2014)
Rated: PG thematic material including some medical situations
Runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Genre: Drama/Family

My spoiler-free review:

“Heaven is for Real” is a cute and funny story about some heavy subject matter – life and death and what happens after… its all handled with care in the movie based on the New York Times best-selling book about the true story of a boy that tells his experience of visiting heaven.  The movie sets a new bar for small budget* faith-based movies to aspire to – with a solid script, good acting, likeable characters, and not overly preachy… I give it 7.5 out of 10.
Its a faith challenging movie, and if you let it, a faith inspiring story.

You just can’t help but smile at Connor Corum.

For a 6-year-old (playing 4-year-old Colton), he’s got a lot of charisma and can hold the audience with his maturity next to a veteran actor combined with his innocence of youth and his character’s “faith like a child”.  Connor is a good little actor, looking comfortable with several lines of dialogue at a time and at ease with on screen dad Greg Kinnear, the two clearly have good father-son chemistry.

Kinnear shines as Todd Burpo, Colton’s father and small town pastor of the Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Nebraska.  Kinnear aptly depicts the doubt, the dilemma as a preacher, and the challenge his family and church face in believing or not believing what Colton says happened to him.  Kinnear’s Pastor Todd is very personable, very good at his job, a great speaker until he faces physical, emotional, and major career adversity.

Pastor Todd, his wife Sonja (Kelly Reilly), daughter Cassie (Lane Styles), and the church deal with this adversity in different ways.  Thomas Haden Church adds depth and dry comic relief as Pastor Todd’s best friend ‘Jay’, while Margo Martindale is solid as hard nosed church board member and piano player ‘Nancy’.

While its surprising how quickly some members of the church react negatively to Colton’s story, all the characters represent a theme of how people react to things that challenge them – some literal, some figurative, some are inspired, some are afraid, others confused for different reasons, Pastor Todd surmises – “some may be afraid there is no heaven… or they’re afraid there is”.  The sermons that Todd preaches ironically apply to what they are going through and once he realizes he needs to listen to his own teachings, his character, the last you’d suspect would need to change, goes through several changes during the movie.

Director Randall Wallace does a good job presenting Colton’s experience in heaven as a true event that happened, not some fantastical special effects wizardry with flash and fireworks, the tone of it makes sense – important, yet humbling.

But to say that “Heaven is for Real” is a movie just for Christians is a shame.  Sure its a story presented in a away that will be best received by believers, but its also a message about family and community, appreciating and respecting the people around you, and letting people know they’re not alone in whatever struggles they are dealing with in life… something that everyone can understand.

While the movie tries to present Colton’s family as a normal middle america non-Biblical family highlighted with a cute scene where the singing in the car goes from “This Little Light of Mine” to “We Will Rock You”, it also goes a little too far with spicing up the husband-wife relationship both in conversation and wardrobe.   I also had some troubles accepting the true depth of the financial hardship depicted in the movie.  Some scenes are a little predictable.   But its still a solid family and/or faith-based movie.

*estimated budget: $12 million

MORE INFO (possible spoilers):

“Heaven is for Real” 

Cast: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church, Connor Corum, Lane Styles, Margo Martindale, Jacob Vargas, Thanya Romero, Danso Gordon, Nancy Sorel

Director: Randall Wallace  [Secretariat (2010), We Were Soldiers (2002), The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)]

Writer(s): Chris Parker & Randall Wallace (screenplay), Todd Burpo & Lynn Vincent (book) “Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back”

The Plot: A small-town father must find the courage and conviction to share his son’s extraordinary, life-changing experience with the world.

So what did you think?  Please post a comment!

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