Sure, Hollywood has proven time and time again that even the most stellar cast cannot save a bad or mediocre movie. But The Miracle Club, directed by Irishman Thaddeus O’Sullivan and starring Kathy Bates, Maggie Smith, Laura Linny, and Agnes O’Casey, proves that an exceptional cast can elevate a simple story to extraordinary. O’Sullivan lucks out with his leads and, with a keen eye, manages a rich character-driven tale of friendship and hope.
Set in 1969, The Miracle Club follows friends Eileen Dunne (Bates), Lily Fox (Smith), and Dolly (O’Casey) as they attempt to win tickets to take a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, to a Catholic shrine where the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared in 1858. As women in the 60s, burdened by overbearing men and children, they seek miracles to change their lives. Enter Chrissie (Linny), an old friend who left them all behind when she found herself in a family way, and she vowed never to return unless her mother died. Resent and bitterness give way when the truth is exposed during Chrissie’s mother’s funeral and the trip to Lourdes.
Although O’Sullivan’s pacing is often choppy, this cast stuns, and they carry the story with undeniable talent and chemistry. This type of character-driven tale isn’t for everyone, but the ride is slow, methodical, and wholly entertaining with this ensemble. I worried about Bates and Smith carrying the thick Irish accents, but they managed exceptionally well. Bates’ Eileen seethes resentment at Chrissie’s choices and mourns the loss of a special relationship but softens as the story unfolds. It’s adorable when the trio sings at the talent show, hoping to win the tickets for Dolly and her young son, Daniel, who has never spoken. Each lady has a reason to hope for a miracle, except maybe Chrissie, who seems too close to the priest (or so Eileen accuses). Eileen detects a lump in her breast, and Lily, the eldest, believes this might be her last chance to do anything like this.
It is easy to laugh and cry with these ladies and understand their plights. The costuming and sets are stellar, transporting viewers back in time. While subtle, and certainly not because of the waters in the shrine, each woman does experience something miraculous in their relationships and lives. It’s a beautiful and subtle delivery by co-writers Jimmy Smallhorne, Timothy Prager, and Joshua D. Maurer, and wit and honesty shine through. There is a wonderful interaction between Lily and her husband that emulates the men in the film where he asks, “What’ll I do on my own?” to which she replies, “Go back to bed. You’ll be safe there,” encompassing the film’s themes regarding relationships during the times.
Cinematographer John Conroy deserves recognition for his stunning ability to capture mood and tone at home and in Lourdes. Other characters inhabit the film, but the ladies carry the load and do it remarkably well. It’s a delightful character study and an enchanting stroll through their lives. The Miracle Club earns a solid four stars from me.