Starring: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly and Thomas Haden Church
Directed by: Randall Wallace
Running time: 1 hour 40 mins
Our Score: 2 out of 5 stars
“Heaven Is For Real” is a film that absolutely knows its audience. And while I am not part of that particular audience, I can acknowledge how easy it is to like this movie. Based on the novel of the same name, this film is the story of the Burpos; a middle-class family from a small town in Nebraska. Todd Burpo (Kinnear) is the patriarch of the family and the main character. He is your genuine, Midwestern, all-American father; Pastor of his church, a volunteer firefighter, he works a full-time job and plays on the softball team. Yet, despite his busy life, his family is struggling financially. Those financial troubles are made worse when Todd’s youngest son, Colton (Connor Corum) is suddenly taken to the hospital. While being operated upon he claims to have visited Heaven. As if to prove his claim, he recalls seeing his parents doing things he was not around to see and visiting relatives of his that he had never met nor heard of.
Based on a real life event, I will say that I do believe that the Burpo family believes Colton’s story. However, if I only had this film to go on I don’t think I would be as convinced. The story is told in such a ham-fisted way that, to me, the storytelling ruins the story. The first act is comprised of almost nothing but scenes that set-up the next scene, only to have the following scene mirror the previous one. All of the actors are likable enough – as are their characters – although I noticed a lack of chemistry between Kinnear and Kelly Reilly, who plays his wife, Sonja. Not only did I not find them a convincing married couple, I actually found it hard to accept Reilly as a Midwestern housewife. The cast does a credible job but I just found the story too contrived. The one performance I did enjoy was delivered by young Connor Corum. He’s cute and funny and does not come across like a typical child actor. His performance kept me watching, along with the beautiful Midwestern scenery.
The film suffers from being overly melodramatic. So much is thrown at this family in the first half that it weighs the story down. The trials that this family goes through, when added to some clichéd characters, gives the film the appearance of a fictional, scripted story, not a film dealing with real events. A main flaw is the constant highlighting of the family’s financial situation. No doubt it was part of the story, but the film never does resolve the situation. As far as the audience knows, when the film is over, the Burpos are still deep in debt with no way out.
It’s also worth noting that the film is heavily steeped with religious overtones and images; primarily those of the Christian faith. While that may be perfect for the people who purchased and enjoyed the book or for a sponsored Christian audience, it may be off-putting to those with either a different belief or none at all. On the positive side, I commend the filmmakers for not toning down the religious themes to reach a wider audience. This film will reach its intended audience and they should receive it well.