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Review: ‘Heaven is for Real’ isn’t a spiritual awakening Special

Posted Apr 16, 2014 by Sarah Gopaul
‘Heaven is for Real’ is about a small-town preacher whose son visits heaven and the numerous questions that arise from his experience.
Connor Corum and Greg Kinnear in a scene from  Heaven is for Real
Connor Corum and Greg Kinnear in a scene from 'Heaven is for Real'
Sony Pictures
Even amongst the devout, there are subjects of contention. One such topic is the physical existence of heaven. While the notion of an afterlife is held firm by most, the extension of a literal paradise is more difficult to embrace. In Heaven is for Real, a boy is absolute in the belief that he visited heaven during surgery, making life as a preacher challenging for his father.
Living in a small American town, Todd Burpo's (Greg Kinnear) got his hands full. Business has been slow for the repairman and trading goods for his services has become the only method of payment. At home he has a beautiful, loving family who is about to lose the roof over their heads as bills continue to pileup. And on Sundays he must find the inspiration to nurture his congregation's belief in God. Though this final task only becomes difficult after his four-year-old son, Colton (Connor Corum), nearly dies, and unexpectedly complicated when he recovers and shares his experiences in heaven with Jesus.
The film opens much like the above description with a fair amount of exposition meant to bring the characters closer to the audience before the narrative gets to the heart of the matter. Todd is well-liked and steadfast in his faith that things will turn around (without his intervention). But he's also human so when his son becomes gravely ill, he angrily questions the Almighty's plan. Kinnear is perfectly adequate in his portrayal, exuding a natural likability, and Corum is genuinely innocent throughout. Charm is provided by the ever-delightful Thomas Haden Church, though he tones down his typical charisma.
What perhaps makes this picture slightly different from some other religious films is the universal hesitation to accept Colton's story. A psychologist is consulted to explain the details of his tale. Fellow townsfolk mock the family. Todd's flock are the loudest naysayers, insisting the preacher distance himself from his son's religious experience. Of course none of this changes the end result, but it rather attempts to cloak the movie's higher meaning in a more mainstream narrative.
On the other hand, the hokey representation of heaven throws all rhyme or reason out the window. Fluffy clouds against a blue sky — a scene strikingly similar to one that can casually be seen outside of most airplanes mid-flight; glowing angels that sing and play music; and a welcome party organized by deceased loved ones. It’s simply cliché.
Nonetheless the film's strongest and most resounding message is not a religious one, but its subtle commentary on the American health care system. Colton's life is endangered because his parents delay treatment — and they delay treatment because they know the hospital bill will be crippling in their current financial situation. Anyone from a country that supplements health care would be appalled at how long they waited before taking Colton to the emergency room. And this shortcoming is only confirmed when they receive a bill that surpasses the total of the rest of their debt combined.
In the end this movie, based on the #1 New York Times best-selling book of the same name by the real-life Todd Burpo, is virtually a Lifetime picture that's made it to the big screen. It suffers from the same dramatic pitfalls and sentimental manoeuvring. All of which will undoubtedly please its target audience.
Director: Randall Wallace
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly and Thomas Haden Church