“The Miracle Club” Lourdesie Lourdesie [MOVIE REVIEW]

Maggie Smith as Lily, Agnes O'Casey as Dolly and Kathy Bates as Eileen. Photo credit Jonathan Hession, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

If “The Miracle Club” starred Jane Brown, Susie White and Mary Jones this slight piece would have gone straight to the Lifetime Channel. But director Thaddeus O’Sullivan found a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for this little Irish film written by Jimmy Smallhorne, Timothy Prager and Josh Mauer. That pot of gold was filled with Maggie Smith, Kathy Bates and Laura Linney who play the lead roles in the tale of mothers, daughters and long lost friends.  

It’s 1967 in Ballygar, a shale-tough suburb of Dublin where women rule the home and men rule the pubs. The church is there to maintain the status quo and raffle off prizes, in this case a trip to Lourdes, France where miracles occur (rarely) but faith is deep. Although on the heels of the death of the woman who started this contest, Father Byrne declares that she would have wanted the show to go on, so to speak. A talent contest will decide the winners of the last two tickets and Dolly, Eileen and Lily are convinced that their rendition of “He’s So Fine” will get two of them there. Dolly is hoping that a bath in the waters with her mute child will loosen his tongue and speech will pour forth. Eileen believes that God will take care of the lump in her breast; and Lily is looking for the expiation of the guilt she still feels about her son’s suicide 40 years before. Beaten out in the talent contest by a ten year old, he offers them his two winning tickets. 

There is a funeral the next day and the daughter of the deceased, Chrissie, shows up like a bad penny, having been banished 40 years ago by her mother. Eileen and Lily are not pleased. Eileen and Chrissie had been best friends when suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, Chrissie left for America, never to return, never to communicate with her friend and family until this very unexpected moment. Lily has always blamed Chrissie for her son’s suicide, the backstory of which will eventually come out and lead to the reason Lily must make the pilgrimage to Lourdes.

Kathy Bates as Eileen. Photo credit Jonathan Hession, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The Irish women all follow the traditional trajectory of the day. They maintain the household, take care of the children and hope that there’s money left over for food when their husbands return from the pub. Excited about the trip to Lourdes, Dolly and Eileen are met with stony disapproval from their husbands. Dolly’s husband, left with their baby, indicates that he won’t be home when she returns. Eileen’s wastrel husband goes him one better and declares that the kids, of which there are many, will be on their own. Lily’s spouse, her true soulmate, has never understood her guilt but hopes she will find herself during the trip.

Chrissie, finding her mother’s tickets to Lourdes, shares one with Eileen so that all four women can go together. White hot anger at Chrissie becomes freezing cold before there is a reconciliation (that’s not a spoiler unless you’ve never seen a movie or read chick lit before) and each finds a revelation in Lourdes, just not the one they were expecting.

With the exception of Agnes O’Casey in her feature film debut as Dolly, none of the leads are Irish. O’Casey (great-granddaughter of the famous Irish playwright Sean O’Casey whose incisive writing has influenced every Irish writer who came after him), is, surprisingly, the most true to her character and convincing in her angst and desires. Her character’s steely determination in the wake of her husband’s dismissal of her needs is well developed and reveals a nuanced depth that is not present for the other characters. 

Kathy Bates plays Eileen as permanently angry about life in general. Her Irish accent is quite good but her character’s mood never seems to change until suddenly it does. The writers have given her little to work with. Eileen has a useless husband, a brood of kids and grudges she’s harbored for decades. What Bates effectively communicates is the fate of a working class Irish Catholic woman trapped by a rigid religion, too many kids, too little money and a husband who’s useless. 

Laura Linney as Chrissie and Maggie Smith as Lily. Photo Photo credit Jonathan Hession, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Maggie Smith as Lily, never quite conquers her accent, but she is, after all, Maggie Smith so most things can be forgiven. She definitely owns the ambivalence behind her anger, directed outwardly toward Chrissie, but primarily against herself. 

Laura Linney, as Chrissie, doesn’t need to attempt an Irish accent because her character has lived in America for 40 years. What she has been doing all that time is a mystery although she seems to be well-versed in medical matters. Her Chrissie is the catalyst for action. Her presence may be a tad forced to propel the action but she plays it well and enigmatically. 

In a small, but critically important role as Eileen’s husband, Steven Rea, like O’Casey an Irish actor, is the necessary comic relief. Forced to participate in family activities for the first time, watching him struggle artlessly to make dinner or help clean up is priceless.

Not a masterpiece, despite the cast, “The Miracle Club” is an enjoyable 90 minutes. After all, when will you see those actors together in something else?

Opening July 14 at the Laemmle Royal.


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