THE STORY – There’s just one dream for the women of Ballygar to taste freedom: to win a pilgrimage to the sacred French town of Lourdes. With a little benevolent interference from their local priest, a group of close friends get their ticket of a lifetime.
THE CAST – Laura Linney, Maggie Smith, Kathy Bates, Agnes O’Casey, Mark O’Halloran & Stephen Rea
THE TEAM – Thaddeus O’Sullivan (Director), Joshua D. Maurer, Timothy Prager & Jimmy Smallhorne (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 91 Minutes
There is only one reason anyone is reading this review: actresses, specifically, the trio of icons leading “The Miracle Club” – Kathy Bates, Laura Linney, and Maggie Smith. The new film from director Thaddeus O’Sullivan fits neatly into the burgeoning micro-genre of amiable stories starring elder stateswomen performers. Undoubtedly, nearly all interest in the film stems from its cast, and viewers hoping for a cordial time with some living legends won’t be disappointed. The film itself is a slight but pleasant little story depicting the grandest adventure in these characters’ unapologetically simple lives, which doesn’t necessarily make for the most exciting cinematic time. Still, it does serve its purpose well as a satisfying diversion.
Opening in Dublin in 1967, “The Miracle Club” follows Lily (Smith) and Eileen (Bates), who, along with their friend Dolly (Agnes O’Casey), win the chance to visit the French town of Lourdes. There, they wish to see the location of the miracle of St. Bernadette in the hopes of finding a cure for their lives’ troubles. Their perfect plan is met with a disruption in the form of Chrissie (Linney), their old friend who has come to town on the occasion of her estranged mother’s death. Chrissie joins them in Lourdes, hoping for a chance to mend old wounds and make new memories.
It can’t be said that our three leading ladies are turning in career-best work here, but each gives the kind of sturdy, tonally correct performance that only shows the complete mastery of their abilities. It would be inappropriate, in this instance, for any of them to turn up the histrionics at any time. Bates and Smith both sport charming Irish accents, and their believable chemistry with each other makes it easy to buy them both as natural-born Irish women. Linney gets to go on arguably the biggest journey of the characters. Chrissie is an outsider, there to disrupt the established group dynamic, and even if she doesn’t realize it at first, she works to win herself over to them. Linney is blessed with scenes where her character gets to reveal substantive truths about her past and make self-discoveries that she’ll carry with her for the rest of her days. Smartly, she never overplays these comparatively dramatic moments, which would only make them feel out of place in the otherwise unassuming movie.
O’Sullivan’s filmmaking, much like the tenor of the performances, is exactly the kind of unshowy job that is to be expected from a film of this nature. The cinematography is warm, the tone is gentle, and Edmund Butt’s string-heavy score perfectly underscores it all. It all feels like the cinematic equivalent of a satisfying, but not fancy, bottle of red wine.
If audiences wish to join “The Miracle Club” simply as an excuse to watch actresses who love to interact with each other in a pleasant and gentle environment, they will get what they’re looking for. If all cinema were artistically groundbreaking, it would be exhausting. “The Miracle Club” knows exactly what it is and delivers precisely what viewers want.