The Miracle Club
Oldster Irishwomen chew through decades of regret and resentment in this charming dramedy starring Kathy Bates, Laura Linney and Maggie Smith.
“You don’t come to Lourdes for Miracles, Eileen. You come for the strength to go on when there is no miracle.”
Though often bittersweet, “The Miracle Club” is what you’d call cinematic comfort food. It’s the sort of filmmaking that isn’t particularly daring or original, but knows exactly what is the taste their audience craves and delivers it in a pleasing way.
These sorts of movies generally are made to appeal to female audiences and features casts that reflect them. In this case, a powerhouse of older actresses: Kathy Bates, Laura Linney and Maggie Smith. (That’s 13 Oscar nominations and three wins between them, in case you’re counting.)
Set in 1967 Ireland, it’s a comedy but also a story of aching loss, resentment and regret. Linney plays Chrissie, who grew up there but moved away suddenly 40 years ago as the result of some vague scandal. She returns for the funeral of her mother, Maureen, to settle her affairs but also confront two other key women in her life who contributed to her banishment, as she calls it.
Bates is Eileen, a harried mother of six children and 12 grandchildren, who keep her so busy she doesn’t know whether she’s coming or going most days. Her husband (Stephen Rea) spends most of his time at the pub, and the little bit at home is punctuated by constant sniping between them.
She and Chrissie were once the best of friends, but the way Eileen looks at her upon her return, you’d swear she’s swallowed on ocean of bile.
Smith plays Lily, who’s a generation older than the other two but treats Eileen like an old chum. She has a bad leg and is hoping to win a church talent contest (originally organized by Chrissie’s mother) where the winners get a trip to Lourdes, the French town where the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared in the 1800s.
The baths there are reputed to have miraculous healing powers, and indeed the Catholic Church has officially attributed 63 miracles to the waters at Lourdes to date — which Lily frets is not really a very good average. Eileen has her own reasons as she’s recently developed a lump on her breast.
Rounding out the key cast are Mark O'Halloran as Father Dermot, the kindly local pastor who organizes and emcees the Lourdes trips, and Agnes O'Casey as Dolly, a younger woman befriended by Eileen and Lily. She has a young boy, Daniel (Eric D. Smith), who’s bright but stubbornly mute, and she thinks the trip to Lourdes might get him to speak.
Of course, they eventually get to Lourdes, because otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie, and of course Chrissie goes with them, for the same reason. Without giving too much away, there will be much friction, leading to some big confrontations, and an eventually thawing of the ice.
We learn of the drowning death of Lily’s beloved son, Declan, which happened right around the time Chrissie left for Boston. It isn’t hard to guess the two are somehow connected.
With Linney, Smith and Bates, you’re getting some first-rate performances from experienced performers who really know how to inhabit a role and make the character seem tangible and real to us. Eileen’s brittleness and caustic humor is almost palpable, physical presence, as is Lily’s inherent sweetness and wallflower tendencies.
Chrissie remains something of a mystery, probably intentionally on the part of screenwriters Jimmy Smallhorne, Timothy Prager and Joshua D. Maurer, though I think they perhaps play it a little too close to the vest. Any trace of her Irish accent is long-gone, so there’s also an element of her showing up as the ugly American.
(Brit Smith and Yank Bates do an admirable job with their Irish brogues.)
Director Thaddeus O’Sullivan keeps things moving at a bright clip, with little time to tarry or get lost in side-plots. If anything, I occasionally wished the movie would slow down a bit and nurse its drink, so to speak, instead of every scene slamming it back and getting straight to the point.
Normally that’s a good thing, but with three actresses this warm and wonderful, you want to savor every sip.