The Miracle Club (2023)

Quirky ‘Miracle’ has its share of Irish charm

Can an Irish ex-pat from Boston find and grant forgiveness in a movie thinner than a shillelagh? When Laura Linney portrays her, the odds are certainly in her favor. But she can only do so much with the cliched blarney “The Miracle Club” shamelessly dispenses in a scéal rarely as precious as it assumes.

Yet, it’s some of Linney’s finest work, putting a fallible face on a strong, assured woman literally dealing with ghosts from her past in the wake of her not-so-dear-old mam’s demise. When her Chrissie arrives back in the old hardscrabble Dublin neighborhood, she’s greeted only by her mátheir’s casket and a kindly priest in Father Byrne (Mark O’Halloran), who apologizes for the total absence of mourners at the wake. It seems the locals are more focused on that night’s talent show and the first prize of two tickets for a pilgrimage to Lourdes, what Catholics consider to be the epicenter of miracles.

Veteran director Thaddeus O’Sullivan, along with a trio of writers, does little to deter from our immediate conclusion that Chrissie will somehow be among those making the long journey to France. And given that her co-stars are Oscar-winners Kathy Bates and Maggie Smith, it’s safe to assume they also will be along for the ride. The only fascination is in watching the movie jump through hoops to get them all on the same bus destined for reconciliation and understanding.

Set in 1967, “The Miracle Club” is one of those twee enterprises emphasizing quirk over substance. The results alternate between annoying and touching, as Chrissie confronts the two women she rightly blames for running her out of town 40 years earlier. Why? I will not say, other than to note that the film takes a bit too long in revealing what we suspect from the start. We also learn that Smith’s Lily Fox, a feisty old codger with a massive Irish guilt complex, was the chief instigator in ensuring that her then-teenaged son, Declan, would have nothing further to do with Chrissie.

Abetting Lily in her meddling was Chrissie’s mum, who at the time sent her daughter packing off to Boston, never to return … until now. Ah, but there was a third coconspirator, that being Chrissie’s snarling, ill-tempered former BFF, Eileen Dunne (Bates). It’s a betrayal Chrissie has never forgotten. And you can cut the tension with a butter knife whenever they find themselves uncomfortably face-to-face.

I almost forgot to mention that Eileen and Lily are members of the Miracle Club, a Gaelic version of The Chiffons. Singing lead on “He’s So Fine” in the aforementioned talent show is newcomer Agnes O’Casey as Dolly, a young mother of two. They don’t win, but amid a host of contrivances, they end up with the tickets to Lourdes. Natch, all three are in need of miracles. For Dolly, it’s getting her autistic 5-year-old son to utter his first word. Lily craves relief from the double whammy of a bum leg and the sorrow borne of her son’s suicide, an act she still blames on Chrissie. And Eileen seeks to eradicate a lump she is convinced is breast cancer, a disease the character shares with Bates, who underwent a double mastectomy in 2012.

There’s never any doubt that the four women will acquire more of what they need than what they want. But there exists an element of felicity in observing them go about it. It’s also heartening to witness these bold Irish women thumbing their noses at sexist husbands unbending in their staunch belief in 1960s gender roles. As Eileen’s hangdog lesser half, Stephen Rea (“The Crying Game”) does wonders with the tiny role of adapting to life as a temporary househusband. The scene in which he serves an icky-looking stew to his kids and grandkids is priceless.

Shooting mostly on location, director of photography John Conroy (“Luther”) adds a layer of needed nuance by deftly contrasting the grittiness of the women’s low-income quadrangle of rowhouses in outer Dublin with the majestic surroundings of the gorgeous Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, high in the Pyrenees.

The miracle of “Miracle” is that despite its myriad flaws, its story of life’s little blessings ultimately gets to you. It has less to do with religion and more with harnessing strength and perseverance to achieve inner peace through forgiveness and salvation. And you don’t require a trip to Lourdes to find it. “Miracle” persuasively suggests it’s been residing within us all along.

Movie review

The Miracle Club

Rated: PG-13 for some language, thematic elements

Cast: Laura Linney, Kathy Bates, Maggie Smith, Agnes O’Casey and Stephen Rea

Director: Thaddeus O’Sullivan

Writers: Jimmy Smallhorne, Timothy Prager and Joshua D. Maurer

Runtime: 91 minutes

Grade: B-

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