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The Miracle Club

There's something a little old-fashioned about "The Miracle Club." Set in 1967 Ireland, "The Miracle Club" stars three powerhouse Oscar-winning and/or nominated actresses (none of whom are Irish) and features period clothing and cars, sweeping cinematography, location-shooting, and a heartwarming message, where each character gets a satisfying arc. Cliches work for a reason. Emmy-nominated director Thaddeus O’Sullivan is alert to details and nuance, which is very important with a script (by Jimmy Smallhorne, Timothy Prager, and Joshua D. Maurer, based on a story by Smallhorne) where the revelations can be seen coming from three fields away. "The Miracle Club" has been kicking around as a potential project for years, and now, with Maggie Smith, Kathy Bates, and Laura Linney starring, it's finally come to pass.

Lily (Smith) and Eileen (Bates) are lifelong friends living in a working-class suburb of Dublin, made up really of just a couple of blocks. It is a close community where everyone knows everyone else, gossip reigns, and grudges go on for generations. Lily, Eileen, and their much younger friend Dolly (Agnes O’Casey) sign up for a talent contest at the local parish. The prize? Tickets to Lourdes, the pilgrimage site in France, a place the women, all faithful and devout (grudges notwithstanding), have all been longing to visit. Each woman needs a miracle. Eileen found a lump in her breast and told nobody. She hasn't gone to a doctor either. Her husband (Stephen Rea) and a gaggle of children keep her busy, and Eileen is resigned to leaving them. Lily can't get over the death of her son Declan, who drowned many years before. Dolly's young son (Eric Smith) cannot (or won't?) speak, and Dolly hopes for a cure.

The rhythm of this small neighborhood is established immediately, and the tone is warm, inviting, and comfortable. John Conroy’s cinematography starts with stunning sweeps of Irish green and the blue sea, the gorgeous cliffs and rocks, Ireland incarnate. But he shows equal care with the small block of houses and their colored doors, the intimacy of the setting. John Hand's production design is also a major contribution: the homes feel lived in, realistic, and not presented condescendingly. It's homey and real.

Naturally, Lily and Eileen have secrets, all of which come roaring to the surface when Chrissie (Linney) returns to town, just in time to catch the talent show. She's been gone from the town for decades, and clearly, there's a lot of bad water under the bridge. Eileen can barely look at her; Lily turns her nose at her. Dolly has no idea what's going on and warms to Chrissie immediately. Before you know it, through twists, turns, and coincidences, the quartet is off to Lourdes, praying for personal, physical, and spiritual miracles.

It's easy to predict how this will go, but with actresses like Bates (whose accent is a bit spotty) and Smith (whose accent is very good), there's always a lot to dig into and appreciate. Linney's character is the opposite of expressive and remains so for much of the film, but there are cracks in the armor as the women's time in Lourdes continues. Smith, in particular, gives a heart-breaking performance, guilt, and shame basically pouring out of her eyes, even as she struggles to cover it up with an imperious manner. She plays both simultaneously. It's tempting to say Smith is "unsurprisingly" great, but this should be resisted. Maggie Smith is always surprising; we should not take her for granted!

There are moving moments (O'Casey is very touching), but once the "miracles" start coming, the film tilts into very shallow waters. It's best at its most casual: the interplay of emotions and resentments, the silliness of holding grudges, the pain beneath the surface of these women. We are also treated to supposedly humorous scenes of the menfolk back home falling apart without their women: they have to shop for groceries now, they have to change diapers, oh, how clumsy they are! Considering that this is a period film, which takes place in a world untouched (so far) by the upheavals of the 1960s, these scenes are still pretty rote.

It's worth it, though, to wait for Smith's performance of the line: "God punished me for taking him away like that." The line comes from her guts, her soul, and the shallow waters immediately yield to deep.

Now playing in theaters. 

Sheila O'Malley

Sheila O'Malley received a BFA in Theatre from the University of Rhode Island and a Master's in Acting from the Actors Studio MFA Program. Read her answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here.

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Film Credits

The Miracle Club movie poster

The Miracle Club (2023)

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some language.

91 minutes

Cast

Laura Linney as Chrissie

Kathy Bates as Eileen Dunne

Maggie Smith as Lily Fox

Agnes O'Casey as Dolly

Shauna Higgins as Ruth

Niall Buggy as Tommy Fox

Director

Writer

Cinematographer

Editor

Composer

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