No narrative movement makes ‘Heaven Is for Real’ a tough go

Despite the cast’s best efforts, the script doesn’t allow goodness to emerge.

By Michael Parnell

I went into Heaven Is for Real wanting to like it. The trailer ran on a video loop for several months and I fell for the little boy. But in the final analysis it’s just not that good.

The story centers on the boy, Colton (Connor Corum), the youngest child in his family. His father, Todd (Greg Kinnear), is a bivocational pastor. Todd struggles at his second job as an overhead door sale and repairman. The family is in debt and the strain is showing on Todd and his wife, Sonja (Kelly Reilly).

It’s then that Colton develops what at first is a mysterious illness, which turns out to be a ruptured appendix. Poison from the rupture causes a near death experience for Colton, which eventually requires emergency surgery. But first, Colton experiences heaven. He encounters Jesus and people who have died. After surgery Colton tells what he saw.

At first, his father thinks that this is hallucination. Colton is only 4 and this may be just a child’s imagination. But Colton insists that what happened is real and he is quick to tell others his experience — including the news media, which gets wind of the experience and reports it.

The story initially creates angst in Todd, who loses focus in his preaching and cannot reconcile the story and his faith. The church board — in particular member Nancy Rawling (Margo Martindale) — gets upset about what is taking place. The board chair, Jay Wilkins (Thomas Haden Church), calls a meeting to “clear the air.”

At that meeting, Todd tries to explain but to no one’s satisfaction. The board puts pressure on Todd to put a stop to events surrounding Colton’s story.

The problem with this movie is its terrible narrative arc. It is clearly under dramatized, with no real narrative movement. The viewer never gets really concerned about what is happening to the characters. Placing the focus on the problems of Todd and Sonja does little to move the narrative along. The problems with the board and Todd do not ring true. Everything works out magically and a happy ending is had by all.

Add to that, Colton is only there to give a reason for the title. I would have loved to see the movie focus more on the boy and what he experienced.

Randall Wallace, who directed and co-wrote this movie, knows something of how to write a good script. He wrote the screenplay for Braveheart. But the drama of that film is missing in Heaven Is for Real.

Wallace’s script also soft pedals Todd’s preaching. In fact, it’s not really “preaching.” Apparently Wallace didn’t want to offend anyone who would not like “preaching” in a mainstream movie.

The cast gives it their best shot but ultimately is saddled with something that will not allow goodness to emerge.

Heaven Is for Real

Rated PG for thematic material including some medical situations.

Directed by Randall Wallace. Screenplay by Randall Wallace and Chris Parker, based on a book by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent .

With: Greg Kinnear (Todd Burpo), Kelly Reilly (Sonja Burpo), Connor Corum (Colton Burpo), Thomas Haden Church (Jay Wilkins), Margo Martindale (Nancy Rawlings)

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.