Apr 27, 2018
Heaven is for Real is really dumb
Last week, I went to see Heaven is for Real, which was then the #2 movie in America, and one of about three Jesus movies playing at my local theater. I picked this one to review because it was the only one based on a bestselling book. (I’ve heard that Son of God is based on a book, but that doesn’t count because I don’t know anyone who’s actually read it.)
I already knew that I was going to write a review tearing this movie a new one, but sweet Voltron, I had no idea how much it was going to deserve it.
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You’ve probably already gleaned the basics of this story, even if you only know it as the book that replaced the Left Behind series as that thing they sell in gas stations that disinterested truckers flip through before deciding not to buy it. Written by Todd Burpo and the woman who co-authored Sarah Palin’s bullshit-a-palooza Going Rogue, it details the mysterious circumstances regarding Burpo’s then four-year-old son Colton, who nearly died during surgery and awoke claiming to have visited Heaven, where he spoke to Jesus. Todd, a minister, parlayed this into a small media empire, the end result of which is this movie.
A four-year-old feeling the touch of God, allowing his parents to become successful evangelists? Gee, I wonder where I’ve heard that before…
Yeah, you don’t hear the Christian Right talking about that guy very much anymore, do you?
For those of you who don’t know, Marjoe Gortner was a four-year-old preacher’s son with a photographic memory who was ordained as a minister and traveled America spreading the word until people just got sick of the novelty. As an adult, Gortner revealed that he was actually a lifelong atheist, and teamed with a pair of documentarians to create the landmark, Oscar-winning exposé Marjoe. (In retrospect, this may have had more to do with Gortner trying to kick-start his failed movie career, but can you blame the guy?)
So you can forgive me if I don’t exactly believe Heaven is for Real is anything other than a… whatchamacallit… hoax. But it’s not just me; even the movie seems to think these people are full of shit. The entire first third of the film, where not a whole hell of a lot happens aside from setting up that Todd Burpo (played by Greg Kinnear) is Jimmy Stewart reincarnated (except he gets laid on the regular), shows us all sorts of details that while having no real impact on the story, all end up being elements of Colton’s vision. You know, like it was all just an elaborate dream, or something.
Nothing about this film makes sense dramatically. It moves the action to present day, instead of about ten years ago, but there doesn’t seem to have been a reason to do so, aside from getting to do captions that say PRESENT DAY. Despite the fact that there are no flashbacks of any kind.
Todd is supposed to be going through some kind of crisis of faith. I think. He certainly says he’s going through one, but there’s nothing about his actions that suggest this. Colton comes back from the other side spouting the exact same Christian platitudes that Todd already believes, but this freaks him out for reasons that the film doesn’t bother to explain. Nor does it ever explain just why everyone has a problem with this thing that in no way changes what they already view as fact.
There’s a scene where Todd goes to speak to a psychologist for the express purpose of finding a non-Biblical reason for Colton’s vision, but gets snippy with her when she gives him one. I almost thought they were setting her up as a badly-needed antagonist, but if there’s one quality that entertainment for Christians shares with video games made for pre-teen girls, it’s the idea that conflict is a dirty word.
Even the cinematography seems designed to point out that this story is full of holes. It’s all pretty and would look great in a demo reel, but every shot seems to have been deliberately set up to carry no dramatic weight of any kind. I was actually surprised to find out this was directed by Randall Wallace, the same guy who did We Were Soldiers.
And yes, the film does address the elephant in the room: Doesn’t it seem a little convenient that Colton had his little trip to fairyland just when the family was having serious money problems? The film addresses this, but doesn’t come up with any kind of resolution. (Though, if someone in the family ever breaks down and admits this was all crap, we’ll have great fodder for a sequel!)
The one saving grace of this film is the actors. I know a lot of people are focusing on Greg Kinnear in this, because it’s so fucking weird that Greg Kinnear is in this, but my focus was more on Thomas Haden Church. I loved him on Wings, and of course he was nominated for an Oscar for Sideways, and while seeing former high-profile actors in stuff like this is normally tragic, I’ve managed to make a game out of guessing who’s in the film because they actually believe whatever the message is, and who’s here because they need the money. When it comes to Church, I’m guessing money, because he clearly does not give a shit, and thus becomes the funniest damn thing in the film.
The main flaw in the cast is the actor who plays Colton. I don’t want to be too mean towards someone who’s about a quarter of my age, but let’s just say I finally see why people hated Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker.
Other than that, the film is light on drama, light on plot, and heavy on filler. During all the downtime, I invented the Heaven is for Real Drinking Game: take a shot every time there’s a scene where Greg Kinnear puts the kids to bed. Sure, a funnier game might have been taking a shot every time we see a plug for Spider-Man or someone using a Sony Vaio, but I’m trying to get you drunk, not kill you.
Still, if you’re one of those people who think Jesus really did appear on that woman’s grilled cheese sandwich, you’ll probably enjoy this movie. It’s already made about four times its budget back in theaters, so there will probably be a lot more of these coming our way!
And yet, Muppets Most Wanted hasn’t even broken even in America yet. The fuck is wrong with you people?