Sincere effort, featuring a number of good performances. The movie will likely yield few conversions; rather, it succeeds best as preaching to the choir. More inventive production design with respect to our glimpses of heaven would definitely have helped.
The pic opens with a scene in Lithuania, showing a young girl painting, and quickly shifts to Imperial, Nebraska. Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) installs garage doors, coaches high school wrestling, serves on the volunteer fire department, and is also the pastor of the local Wesleyan church. Todd has suffered a few medical setbacks, and despite money problems, his wife Sonja (Kelly Reilly) convinces him to take the family to Denver, for a little R&R.
The Burpos have two kids, Cassie (Lane Styles) and younger brother Colton (Connor Corum). One of the activities in Denver involves handling a tarantula, which is too scary for four-year-old Colton. Upon their return, both children fall ill, but Colton does not recover. With a soaring fever, he is taken to the hospital, and is diagnosed with acute appendicitis. His prognosis is not good.
Yet, the boy does make a full recovery, and begins to speak of his visions of heaven–through an out-of-body experience. Colton’s story is not taken too seriously by his parents, until he mentions seeing his great-grandfather (and recognizing a picture of him) along with telling his parents he met his heretofore unknown stillborn elder sister. He also spent some time with Jesus himself, who–according to Colton–doesn’t look anything like the typical renderings. His big takeaway from all this is to not be afraid of anything. Indeed, once well, he gets to prove it by returning to Denver and holding the tarantula.
As you might imagine, visits to heaven are difficult to keep quiet, and before long, controversy ensues, with all to be disclosed–and mostly resolved–during an inspirational homily given by Todd.
***SPOILERS AND OTHER COMMENTS***
The Lithuanian girl shown at the beginning of the film is revealed to be Akiane Kramarik, a child prodigy artist, who also had visions of heaven. Her painting of Jesus matches Colton’s description. Apparently, Jesus looks like a younger Kenny Loggins. Akiane also speaks of the amazing color palette in heaven, as did Colton. Frankly, a movie about the incredibly talented and articulate Akiane would have been far more interesting.
Reviews from most of the pro critics run along the lines of “Yeah, I used to be a believer when I was a kid, but how can any rational adult believe any of this crap?” Also included in many of those reviews are snarky references to how dull the characters are, and whatever happened to the meth labs and the barflies, which are supposed to be endemic in the Midwest?
The most important change from the book to the movie is the PC deletion of Colton saying that one has to believe in Jesus to get to heaven.
Colton is an equal opportunity offender, since the Sola Scriptura crowd has attacked him on many counts. What’s not to like?