‘The Miracle Club’ Review: Laura Linney, Kathy Bates And Maggie Smith Elevate Bland Sweetness

The diverse Irish accents are hard to follow. The script is lacking. All the charm comes from the stellar cast. But they make this well-intentioned drama — set in a a seaside town near Dublin in 1967 — worth a look.

Laura Linney, Maggie Smith and Niall Buggy (from left) in ‘The Miracle Club.’ Sony Pictures Classics

Sweet and well-intentioned but bland and disappointing, The Miracle Club is one of those slow, meandering Irish dramas that inspire more respect than excitement. Set in a seaside town near Dublin in 1967, it centers on a disparate group of women who travel to Lourdes to honor a friend and the various ways the spiritual influence of the trip changes them forever. 

THE MIRACLE CLUB ★★★ (3/4 stars)
Directed by: Thaddeus O'sullivan
Written by: Jimmy Smallhorne, Timothy Prager, Joshua D. Maurer
Starring: Laura Linney, Kathy Bates, Maggie Smith, Stephen Rea
Running time: 91 mins.

Chrissie Ahearn (played by a miscast but nevertheless distinguished Laura Linney, in another noble, polished performance) returns home for her mother’s funeral, chagrined to discover the chapel is empty. Everyone, it seems, is going to a talent show charity benefit in her mother’s honor. The first prize is two tickets to Lourdes chaperoned by the local priest.

Chrissie has been living in America for the past 40 years. Her mother’s old friends are not happy to see her. A good chunk of the movie that follows is devoted to the complex reasons why Chrissie left town in anger, resentment and disgrace. Seems she loved a boy named Declan Fox, who drowned at sea in 1927 at the age of 27, leaving her pregnant and desperate. Declan’s mother Lily (the great Maggie Smith, struggling with a hugely unintelligible Irish accent for the first time in her illustrious career) has never forgiven Chrissie for aborting her child after Declan’s death, and Chrissie has never forgiven Lily’s best friend Eileen (Kathy Bates) for divulging her personal secrets to the entire town, making Chrissie the object of ridicule and more than a bit of local hostility, as well as a pariah to her own mother. A multitude of facts, whispers and lies are revealed in a long-winded screenplay that fails to adequately explore anything beyond surface character development.

On the pilgrimage to Lourdes, Chrissie’s late mother’s three best friends—Eileen, Lily,  and a younger woman named Dolly—board the bus with hope and anticipation, but Chrissie, who looks on the entire adventure as a religious joke, goes along too, out of guilt for ignoring her mother’s love for 40 years. In the film’s only attempt at irony or humor, Lourdes is revealed as a rather embarrassing tourist attraction, replete with a “Hotel Bernadette” that features a gift shop for souvenirs of the Virgin Mary.

Chrissie is forced to share a room with the ladies who have made her homecoming wretched, which makes no sense, but affords them all a contrived chance to confront their true feelings. In the third act, the movie splinters into a series of tearful narratives in which they all pray for their pilgrimage to bring them miracles: Eileen has breast cancer, Lily and Chrissie suffer from traumatic memories that  must be resolved, and Dolly (Agnes O’Casey) has a young son named Danny who hasn’t spoken a word, for unexplained reasons known only to the director, Thaddeus O’Sullivan. The movie is about how Lourdes, despite numerous challenges and drawbacks, has a strange, restorative spiritual effect that reconciles them all in epiphanies of love and forgiveness that are not entirely plausible.

The badly needed charm missing in the script for this lackluster film falls to the ladies who inhabit it, and they work hard to make it work. Managing their diverse Irish accents is daunting, trying to understand them is even more of an uphill slog. The solemn direction and lack of tempo come uncomfortably close to a dirge. The Miracle Club is a sincere and meritorious effort, enhanced by John Conroy’s beatific cinematography that vividly captures the quiet stoicism of rural Ireland, but it leaves you empty, undernourished, and wanting more.

Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.

‘The Miracle Club’ Review: Laura Linney, Kathy Bates And Maggie Smith Elevate Bland Sweetness