Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s The Miracle Club runs 91 minutes, which is not the kind of information one usually leads a review with, but it’s worth mentioning off the top because so much of what’s wrong with the picture is contained in that fact. What we have here is a story of relationships, betrayals, and resentments that spans decades, but it’s all raised, tackled, and resolved in roughly as much time as the Succession finale. If feels less like a character drama than the outline for one.
The setting is Dublin, circa 1967. Laura Linney stars as Chrissie, who has spent the past 40 years in America, estranged from her mother. But now her mother is dead, so she returns to the old neighborhood to settle her affairs—to the consternation of the departed matriarch’s friends Lily (Maggie Smith), Eileen (Kathy Bates), and Dolly (a wonderful young actress named Agnes O’Casey). She walks in as the trio performs a tribute song at a local charity talent show where the grand prize is a trip to the sacred French town of Lourdes. The outcast and the standbys exchange loaded words and icy glares, but soon thereafter, Chrissie discovers an apology letter from her mother, and a ticket to join her friends on their trip.
You can pretty much guess what happens after that. Movies like this are less about surprising us with what happens—Dolly’s son Daniel doesn’t speak, for example, and anyone surprised by how that turns out should see more movies—than with providing pleasurable performances and moments of insight. On the former score, it should be noted that Maggie Smith saying “Holy Mary Mother of God” is a gift, Laura Linney continues to be one of the best in the business at playing women whose wounds have become part of their armor, and that any of us would watch an entire movie about Kathy Bates and Stephen Rea’s entertainingly miserable marriage. (That said, you may spend a good chunk of the setup wondering why they’re trying to convince us that Linney and Bates, separated by 16 years, are the same age.)
The trouble is the script, credited to three separate writers, feeling very much like the result of a weak-willed consensus. It’s a compendium of old simmering slights and resentments, tragedies that surface at a moment’s notice, and so everyone gets to take their turn making their dramatic accusations and disclosures. It all feels so very formulaic, and the slimness of the end product lays that problem bare. The conflict and friction that divides these women has been sewn for decades, but the picture is performed at such a gallop that it’s all made minimal and manageable, and therefore not terribly dramatic.
The screenplay generally tries to do too much in too little time, in fact, providing a fully-formed subplot and attached arc for each of these women, plus little check-ins during their trip for the clueless husbands they’ve left behind. All that housekeeping and box-checking doesn’t leave much room for nuance; O’Sullivan stages it all competently enough, though he leans too heavily on the cutesy/pushy score (especially early on).
The Miracle Club is the kind of movie that used to reliably do fairly brisk art-house business, a picture about, by, and for the older demographic that was once the less-discussed, less-sexy, but undeniable backbone of the indie movie business. That audience (in ways both practical and grim) basically vanished during COVID, and hasn’t really made it back in a meaningful way. It’s nice that there’s a new film out there for them, and one with roles for these actors, who all give it their full force – voices are raised, tears are shed, chins tremble. But it doesn’t amount to much, and by the time the heavy strings cue the happy endings and predictable outcomes, it’s hard to figure why anyone went to the trouble.
“The Miracle Club” is out Friday in theaters.