Home/Comedy, Conscious Creation, Drama, Foreign, Movie Reviews/‘The Miracle Club’ explores the power of pilgrimage 

‘The Miracle Club’ explores the power of pilgrimage 

“The Miracle Club” (2023). Cast: Maggie Smith, Laura Linney, Kathy Bates, Stephen Rea, Agnes O’Casey, Mark O’Halloran, Eric Smith, Mark McKenna, Niall Buggy, Hazel Doupe, Brenda Fricker (voice), Luke Smith, Alice Heneghan, Sean O’Callaghan, Shauna Huggins. Director: Thaddeus O’Sullivan. Screenplay: Jimmy Smallhorne, Timothy Prager and Joshua D. Maurer. Web site. Trailer.

When answers are elusive, we often become frustrated that we can’t find them. That can be especially aggravating when the sought-after solutions are meant to address particularly difficult questions, especially those that have persisted for a while. We’re thus left wondering what to do. However, at times like these, we often resort to embarking on physical or spiritual journeys to tangible or metaphorical destinations that are believed to possess special qualities that serve as sources of inspiration and enlightenment. Such pilgrimages are thus undertaken in the hope of uncovering the answers we seek, marvels designed to help set us on new paths, a course of action explored in the heartwarming comedy-drama, “The Miracle Club.”

In 1967 Ireland, four women from a small coastal town are desperately in search of insights into various personal challenges, some of which have been long outstanding without resolution. It seems like they’ve tried everything, too, but without success, a disheartening outcome, to be sure. But, as dyed-in-the-wool Roman Catholics, they’re convinced that there must be solutions available to them. So, in a determined effort to find them, they decide to embark on a journey to the holy shine of Lourdes in southwestern France, the site of a believed visitation by the Virgin Mary in 1858 that has since become the location of countless miraculous healings, both physical and emotional. So, with nothing to lose and everything to gain, they decide to take a leap of faith and make the trip. After all, God wouldn’t let them down, now would He?

So who are these Emerald Isle pilgrims who are making the journey to the sacred site? They’re quite an interesting foursome:

  • Lily Fox (Maggie Smith) is attempting to manage several challenges. Physically speaking, she suffers from one leg being significantly shorter than the other, necessitating her to wear special footwear with one shoe’s sole fitted with a special lift to equalize her overall height. It aids her mobility but isn’t particularly comfortable, especially at her advanced age. But that’s just one of Lily’s issues; she’s also wrestling with the longstanding emotional pain of having lost her son to suicide many years ago, a tragedy from which she’s never fully recovered. It weighs heavily on her, exacerbating the overall anguish she’s experiencing. Maybe a trip to Lourdes is just what she needs.
Lily Fox (Maggie Smith) seeks to heal both physical and emotional wounds by embarking on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, as seen in the heartwarming comedy-drama, “The Miracle Club,” available for streaming online. Photo by Jonathan Hession, © 2023 themiracleclub, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
  • Eileen Dunne (Kathy Bates) has lived her life as a devoted wife, mother and grandmother. And, now that she’s getting on in years, she has been looking forward to taking things a little easier, a time to enjoy the second half of life. However, those hopes have been diminished somewhat with the discovery of a lump in her breast. She’s worried that it may be malignant, yet she’s scared to find out for sure or to even discuss the matter with others. Perhaps partaking of those famous healing baths at Lourdes will help cure her.
  • Eileen’s daughter, Dolly Hennessey (Agnes O’Casey), is worried that her son, Daniel (Eric Smith), doesn’t speak. He seems perfectly healthy otherwise, and he appears to understand what others say to him. But, no matter what Dolly and her husband, George (Mark McKenna), do, they can’t get Daniel to talk. Dolly is especially worried about how this might affect his future, particularly since the condition seems to defy logic. What can be done to get him to express himself?
  • Chrissie Ahearn (Laura Linney) has been away from her hometown for 40 years, having left Ireland somewhat hurriedly under suspicious but largely unexplained circumstances to resettle in Boston. But the recent death of her estranged mother, Maureen (voiced by Brenda Fricker), has prompted her return. Chrissie’s sudden reappearance has not been well received, partly because of her prolonged absence, partly because she wasn’t present when her mother passed and partly because of the reasons for her hasty departure, which are frequently discussed in hushed, disapproving whispers by Lily and Eileen, Chrissie’s onetime best friend. However, upon her return, Chrissie learns that Maureen had left a letter for her, one that includes, as a final gift and act of forgiveness, an all-expense-paid passage to Lourdes. Chrissie is not quite sure what to make of this gesture, given that she’s not overly religious and has not been part of her mother’s life for a long time. And, because of that, she’s not sure whether to make use of the unexpected travel package. However, after conferring with the local parish priest, Fr. Byrne (Mark O’Halloran), a good friend of Chrissie’s late mother, she decides to avail herself of it. He convinces her that Maureen wanted her to have this gift and that making use of it would be a fitting tribute to her. Chrissie is admittedly somewhat reluctant given that Lily and Eileen will be her traveling companions for the journey, but, then, perhaps healing the apparent bad blood between them is part of the purpose behind this venture. Regardless of the reasons, though, the dynamics of this group are certain to make for interesting conditions under which to make this pilgrimage.
Devoted wife and mother Eileen Dunne (Kathy Bates) fears for her health after discovering a lump in her breast, prompting a pilgrimage to the sacred site of Lourdes in southwestern France in director Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s “The Miracle Club,” available for streaming online. Photo by Jonathan Hession, © 2023 themiracleclub, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

However, despite these plans being put into motion, making a successful getaway won’t be easy for Lily, Eileen and Dolly. The women’s husbands, Tommy (Niall Buggy), Frank (Stephen Rea) and George, respectively, aren’t happy about their wives taking off and leaving them behind. George is also somewhat hesitant to accept his wife’s plans, believing that taking Daniel to Lourdes in hopes of curing what he sees as his self-imposed silence is a fool’s journey. This intolerant disapproval isn’t all that surprising, though, given the period and locale in which this story is set. Nevertheless, these determined women have their minds set on finding the answers they seek, and so, with Chrissie and Fr. Byrne in tow, they head for Dublin to catch the ferry that will take them to France and, they hope, an enlightened future.

But will this pilgrimage turn out as hoped for? As Lily, Eileen, Dolly and Chrissie discover, circumstances may not pan out as expected – in some ways for the better and in other ways not. In both respects, though, the results are eye-opening, both in terms of addressing why they went there in the first place and with regard to a number of larger issues involving matters of faith, their perspectives on miracles and their relationships with one another. It proves to be quite a trip, providing opportunities for healing what’s troubling them and giving them new outlooks for the future.

So will this pilgrimage produce the hoped-for results? Lily, Eileen and Dolly certainly hope so, while Chrissie makes the trip with a skeptical but somewhat open mind. How matters ultimately turn out, however, will depend on their beliefs, for they play a central role in shaping the reality we experience, a product of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains these intangible resources are responsible for what results. It’s unclear whether the four women have ever heard of this school of thought, but most of them have faith in the notion that miracles can be made possible. In their case, though, much will rest on how firmly they believe in that notion and whether or not it pans out in manifested form.

Chrissie Ahearn (Laura Linney, left), long estranged from her recently deceased mother, receives encouragement from parish priest Fr. Byrne (Mark O’Halloran, right), one of her mother’s good friends, to make use of an unexpected final gift she bestowed upon her daughter – a fully paid pilgrimage to Lourdes, France – as seen in “The Miracle Club.” Photo by Jonathan Hession, © 2023 themiracleclub, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

One point that’s important to bear in mind is that our beliefs are highly malleable. Their power and persistence are indeed well known, but they also have an uncanny ability to change form and take different shapes, even when we think they’re immutable. And the experience of a pilgrimage can have tremendous impact on them in this regard. As these journeys of discovery unfold, they frequently reveal new information that can alter the essence of the beliefs we hold when we begin the process.

Such new developments can expose much, like providing previously missing information. In other cases, they can shed new light on circumstances, prompting revelatory new insights into them that may not have previously been considered or envisioned. And, in other cases still, they can burst bubbles of delusion, like sticking a pin a balloon, a result that can be shocking, disillusioning or enlightening, depending on the specific conditions involved.

These kinds of developments are frequently part and parcel of pilgrimages, making it possible for those on the path to learn things they previously didn’t know. This makes sense, too, given that pilgrims often embark on these journeys to find answers that previously eluded them, that they were unable to find under everyday conditions. In fact, what would be the point of undertaking ventures such as these if finding answers weren’t one of the primary reasons for doing so?

Eileen Dunne (Kathy Bates, right) seeks to make a pilgrimage to the healing center of Lourdes, France, despite objections from her husband, Frank (Stephen Rea, left), in director Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s latest, “The Miracle Club,” available for streaming online. Photo by Jonathan Hession, © 2023 themiracleclub, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

These circumstances are indeed applicable to the four women. For Lily, Eileen and Dolly, the journey is all about finding answers to specific questions and seeing their respective requests fulfilled. Meanwhile, for Chrissie, the pilgrimage is more open-ended, finding an answer to why her mother believed it was so important that she make the trip in the first place. In particular, this has to do with uncovering revelations that Chrissie doesn’t even know that she’s looking for or that her mother wanted her to find.

Given that each of the pilgrims is looking for something different, the takeaways from their journey will all be different from one another, too, especially if their beliefs and expectations undergo the kinds of transformations discussed above. What’s more, given that they all know one another and have had past dealings together, the insights they take away from the experience carry the potential to change the nature of their relationships and what they might anticipate from them going forward. The impact of this even affects those who aren’t present, namely, the husbands back home in Ireland. And all of this comes about as a result of the pilgrims’ beliefs and how their journey affects those notions and what they yield.

The effects of the pilgrimage are undeniable, even if they don’t necessarily take the expected form or turn out as planned. And, in the end, we may well discover that we play a larger role in bringing them about than we thought possible, the role of divine intervention notwithstanding. But that shift in perspective doesn’t diminish their overall impact. The outcomes can still prove insightful, transformative and life-changing. And, if that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.

Lily Fox (Maggie Smith, center), beset by physical and emotional ailments, seeks the blessing of her husband, Tommy (Niall Buggy, right), and the support of long-absent acquaintance, Chrissie (Laura Linney, left), for making a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France in “The Miracle Club.” Photo by Jonathan Hession, © 2023 themiracleclub, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

When circumstances in our lives grow unduly burdensome, many of us desperately hope for a miracle. In some cases, that aspiration is looked upon metaphorically, but, in others, it’s anticipated as a literal possibility, one that can be banked on if certain steps are taken. For many of the world’s Roman Catholics, that latter objective means making a pilgrimage to Lourdes, the premise behind director Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s latest feature offering. This delightful and touching comedy-drama is part road trip tale, part “buddy” film (even if that term doesn’t always fit), and part saga of reconciliation, redemption and rebirth. It poignantly explores the process of making our own miracles rather than relying completely on outside influences, as well as learning and understanding the true meanings of faith and forgiveness. Admittedly, the film takes its time getting started (perhaps a tad too long at that), and some of its story threads come across as a little schmaltzy, predictable, outdated and overly “tidy.” However, the picture has a definite edge to it, too, especially in its incisively biting humor, pointedly and expertly delivered through the superb performances of its principal cast members, most notably Smith, Bates, Linney and Rea. Some may look upon “The Miracle Club” as something of a lightweight offering, but its heart and intents are decidedly in the right place, making for a generally enjoyable watch, particularly as a piece of family fare. Cynics may find much to criticize here, but I believe that’s patently unfair, considering the sincerity of its messages and earnestness of their delivery. So, in light of that, give this one a fair shake – you just might find a few miracles of your own come from it. The film is available for streaming online.

When it seems like all hope is lost, it’s easy to become discouraged, if not disconsolate. We might well resort to impassioned pleas for assistance, going so far as to seeking solutions that, on the surface, would appear to defy realistic expectations. But how do we explain outcomes that come through to meet our needs? There’s no denying such results, even if it’s not entirely clear how or why they arose. Yet, when such developments emerge, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to question their presence, origin and impact. Whose hand is involved in their creation is unlikely to come up as well. But, if we make a pilgrimage to find out – be it literally or metaphorically – we might well be thrilled with the answers, not to mention the results. And, in the end, that’s all that matters.

Copyright © 2024, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved. 

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