'The Miracle Club' Review: Maggie Smith, Laura Linney & Kathy Bates in Corny Story of Forgiveness

‘The Miracle Club’ Review: Maggie Smith, Laura Linney & Kathy Bates in Corny Story of Forgiveness

As an actress, Maggie Smith can’t be wrong. She is far more fallible in choosing designs, as evidenced by this treacherous story of Irish women of several generations who travel to the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France, praying for a miracle.

Smith is the center of a powerful trio of actresses here, alongside Laura Linney and Kathy Bates. And while recent films please Book club AND 80 for Brady they worked on the point that older women still like sex, The Miracle Club is set in a tradition-bound 1967 Dublin barely touched by the sexual revolution of the time. This offers no improvement over the often cartoonish roles available to overqualified actresses of a certain age. Directed with pedestrian expertise by Thaddeus O’Sullivan, The Miracle Club it’s about all-too-obvious secrets and the forgiveness you can see coming from the get-go.

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The Miracle Club

The bottom line

An irredeemable film about redemption.

Release date: Friday 14th July
Launch: Maggie Smith, Laura Linney, Kathy Bates, Agnes O’Casey, Mark O’Halloran, Stephen Rea
Director: Thaddeus O’Sullivan
Writers: Jimmy Smallhorne, Timothy Prager, Joshua D. Maurer

Rated PG-13, 1 hour 31 minutes

Each of the main characters has a reason for needing a miracle. Smith plays Lily, whose son, Daniel, drowned decades earlier at the age of 19. She considers his death a divine punishment. Smith slips easily into the role and when she’s on screen the film is benign and watchable.

Eileen (Bates), the mother of a large family, has just found a lump in her breast, but doesn’t tell anyone except the parish priest, Father Byrne (Mark O’Halloran). Bates has the toughest role as this cantankerous, sometimes resentful figure of hers. She’s not afraid to make Eileen unsympathetic, but her shallow script—by Jimmy Smallhorne, Timothy Prager, and Joshua D. Maurer, from Smallhorne’s story—doesn’t give her much help completing the character. “Have you seen a doctor?” the priest asks, and Eileen says, “No, I want to go to Lourdes.” Her answer reveals an unshakeable faith. At that point it is less clear whether we are also to see it with our eyes closed (as if faith and science are mutually exclusive).

A generation younger, Dolly (Agnes O’Casey) is the mother of a child who doesn’t speak. O’Casey delivers an assured performance, even amidst the all-star cast around her.

When we meet these characters in the opening stretch, O’Sullivan (HBO drama Churchill In the storm) and production designer, John Hand, effectively create the texture of their lives, in modest working-class homes with faded patterned wallpaper. That lived-in design is among the film’s best elements. John Conroy’s cinematography is as unremarkable as the formulaic screenplay, which sees Lily, Eileen and Dolly sing together in a parish talent contest, with the grand prize two tickets to Lourdes.

Linney’s character Chrissie shows up at that event and adds a welcome but brief edginess. Chrissie’s mother, the other women’s beloved friend, has just died and Chrissie returns to Dublin looking refined and cosmopolitan after 40 years in the United States, without having set foot again in Ireland. There is bad blood between Lily and Eileen on one side and Chrissie on the other. “I’ve been banned!” Chrissie reminds them, and it doesn’t take more than one shot of her delusion of her in front of a photograph of Daniel to guess why. Like Smith, Linney is such a strong, natural actress that she makes her scenes watchable even when, inevitably in this film, they suddenly become warm and fuzzy.

Chrissie’s mother has left her a note to Lourdes, which she gives to Father Byrne for someone else to use. “Just don’t give it to the nuns,” she says. But without much prompting or apparent motivation, she ends up on a bus to the shrine with the other women. The entire film was shot in Ireland, which may explain why the Lourdes scenes feel so cramped and artificial.

Smith and Linney have the best scene in the movie together, when Lily visits the holy water filled toilets at the shrine. Chrissie dismisses what she calls “all the sleight of hand” around her and Lily says gently, “There’s always Hope, it’s not there, even when you don’t completely believe it. It’s a lovely and delicate scene, just suggesting what a better script overall might have allowed for.

Instead, there are well-worn attempts at humor involving incompetent husbands. Stephen Rea is Eileen’s spouse, who cannot do the shopping or cook. When Dolly’s (Mark McKenna) husband uses a towel to change their baby’s diaper, you can start googling before that diaper falls off in the next scene.

In Lourdes all grievances vanish. And Father Byrne conveys the film’s message in a single cliché: “You don’t come to Lourdes for a miracle, Eileen, you come for the strength to carry on when there is no miracle.” Oh, now he tells her. Obviously, The Miracle Club suggests it’s a lesson the women had to learn for themselves, an idea that’s just another sign of the film’s banality. These actresses deserved so much better.