The Miracle Club features a dream team of brilliant actresses: Maggie Smith (2 Oscars, 3 Nominations), Kathy Bates (1 Oscar, 3 Nominations), and Laurel Linney (3 nominations). Unfortunately, except for one rather brilliant scene, the movie wastes its talents.
Directed by Thaddeus O’Sullivan (Citizen Lane), The Miracle Club tells the story of three smalltown Irish friends – Lillie (Smith), Eileen (Bates), and Dolly (Agnes O’Casey) – who share a desperate desire to go to the sacred French town of Lourdes where Catholics make pilgrimages to see the site of a famous vision experienced by a young girl called Bernadette Soubirous and be healed by its supposedly miraculous waters. Unable to pay for the excursion, the three enter a local talent show where a trip to Lourdes is the first-place prize. The trio doesn’t win – their singing act is pretty bad – but fate/divine intervention/luck gets them the tickets they need.
While all this is happening, a woman named Chrissie (Linney) returns to the town after 40 years away, not to be part of the talent show but to bury her mom, who was best friends with the other three. It’s evident from how they are (over)acting with each other that there’s bad blood between Chrissie, Lillie, and Eileen, but not because the pair went to a talent show instead of mourning their friend. It’s something else, something darker, and the movie spends the next hour or so milking it for all its worth.
As the title suggests, the bulk of The Miracle Club takes place in Lourdes or a barely reasonable facsimile thereof. As the press notes for the film explain, many locations for the movie were recreated, including the famous grotto at Lourdes, partially achieved with a green screen. There is also a note that “the site rarely grants permission” for films, even with Smith, Bates, and Linney on the marquee. If you follow this link to images of the site and compare it to the exterior shots of Lourdes in the film, the film gets the exteriors right; it’s in the scenes at the site that the effects fail to recreate any sense of place. In The Miracle Club, Lourdes feels fake.
Just when you’re ready to leave these women and watch something else, a bit of movie magic flashes across the screen in the middle of all this mess, and it has nothing to do with the grotto or the green screen. It’s just the four actresses sitting in a hotel room, talking, and it is brilliant. Watching those women perform rises above the material and takes the audience to the ethereal.
After that, the acting and the story quickly drop off as The Miracle Club races to its predictable, if still preposterous, ending. Having just seen what the cast can do, it’s hard to watch them regress to the one-dimensional characters they portrayed at the story’s start. But the actresses all add a bit of spice to those final moments, just enough to let audiences believe they, too, know something special happened between them in that big scene—something that has nothing to do with miracles and everything to do with talent.