A couple of weeks ago, I expressed some serious disappointment over a Christian-themed film, “God’s Not Dead.” I thought it was a heavy-handed mess that stood on the shoulders of mean and nasty atheists in hopes of elevating its cause. It felt very negative.
Well, I’m happy to report that I have had just the opposite feeling about “Heaven is for Real.” It’s an inspiring, well-acted, well-written story of a Nebraska family dealing with an extraordinary event surrounding a 4-year-old son, Colton (Connor Corum).
In the midst of emergency surgery, Colton has an out-of-body experience where he sees himself on the operating table, but can also see his worried mother Sonja (Kelly Reilly) talking on her cell phone in the waiting room, while his father Todd (Greg Kinnear) is having heated words with God in the hospital chapel.
On top of that, Colton insists he saw Heaven, met a man he believes is Jesus and is introduced to other relatives who had passed on, before he could have met them in life.
Todd, who is both a pastor at the local Wesleyan church and a volunteer fireman, is amazed and perplexed by his son’s matter-of-fact declarations. He knows that if word gets out, his young son will get a ton of attention, both negative and positive. Could his boy have simply made it up, maybe was reflecting on what he saw in books and photo albums, or was indeed telling the truth as he saw it?
Some of the townspeople are worried their little congregation will turn into a three-ring circus including Todd’s best friend, member of the church board and local banker Jay Olson (Thomas Haden Church) along with another board member and Gold Star mother Nancy Rawling (Margo Martindale).
Poor Todd even consults a child psychologist to see if maybe his son might be delusional, but when the therapist responds with a slight put down about “believing in magic,” Todd walks away more than a little hurt. However, this was the only moment where someone tried to toss a wet blanket on what was otherwise, a very positive film.
From here on, it’s about a small community and a struggling family coming to grips with issues of faith, fear and finances.
Most importantly, it feels honest and heartfelt.
This is the kind of movie, I hope, Christians will hang their hats on. It’s meant to uplift, encourage and inspire. It focuses on what they believe, rather than on what they believe others get wrong.
“Heaven is for Real” takes a strong position without strong-arming its detractors… and in that light of “turning the other cheek,” this seems like the best way to go, it they want others to hear their message.
THE FILM: “Heaven is for Real”
STARRING: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church, Connor Corum and Margo Martindale
BEHIND THE SCENES: Directed by Randall Wallace (“Secretariat,” “We Were Soldiers”); filmed in Manitoba, Canada
PLAYING: 3 p.m. Runs 100 minutes.
MPAA RATING: (PG) for thematic material, including some medical situations