‘The Miracle Club’ a soothing pilgrimage to Lourdes with some likable companions

Maggie Smith, Kathy Bates play women of substance in emotionally resonant period piece.

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Maggie Smith (from left), Agnes O’Casey and Kathy Bates play friends of the deceased who perform at her memorial service in “The Miracle Club.”

Sony Pictures Classics

The primary satisfaction in the cheeky and low-key but emotionally resonant period-piece drama “The Miracle Club” is in seeing world-class actresses including Maggie Smith, Kathy Bates and Laura Linney playing characters who are more than mothers or wives, although that’s part of it too. With the “Book Club” movies and “80 for Brady” and the upcoming Diane Keaton-Alfre Woodard-Kathy Bates film “Summer Camp,” we’re seeing something of a subgenre of buddy movies in which the buddies just happen to be women who lived full and long lives — and who have personalities beyond the wisecracking granny or the saintly matriarch or the loyal and supportive wife of so many years.

Directed by the Irish filmmaker Thaddeus O’Sullivan, who’s a spry 76 himself, “The Miracle Club” is set in 1967 in Ballygar, a working-class village in Galway County, Ireland. They could have called this “One Funeral and Four Women,” as we begin with a memorial service (of a kind) and then follow four women on a journey both geographical and spiritual and, of course, life-changing.

The death of a beloved local named Maureen leads to Father Dermot Byrne (Mark O’Halloran) combining a memorial service for Maureen with a church fundraiser/talent show, with the winners receiving tickets to Lourdes. Maureen’s friends Lily (Maggie Smith) and Eileen (Kathy Bates), and the younger Dolly (Agnes O’Casey) take the stage and perform “He’s So Fine,” and it’s absolutely corny and also pretty great.

‘The Miracle Club’


Sony Pictures Classics presents a film directed by Thaddeus O’Sullivan and written by Jimmy Smallhorne, Timothy Prager and Joshua D. Maurer. Running time: 91 minutes. Rated PG-13. Now showing at local theaters.

Alas, the gals come in second place (here’s your giant slab of cured meat!) but though some quick plot machinations, they all get tickets to Lourdes, as does Maureen’s estranged daughter Chrissie (Laura Linney), who was essentially banished some 40 years ago and has been living in Boston. (Given the time period and the primary characters being Catholic, you can probably guess what led to young Chrissie being “sent away” all those years ago.)

Everyone has their reasons for making the pilgrimage to Lourdes. Dolly hopes her mute son Daniel (Eric D. Smith) will finally speak. Eileen has concerns about a lump in her breast. Lily wants forgiveness for what she believes to be her part in a tragic death. Chrissie is seeking some kind of closure with her late mother, and maybe a chance to explain herself, not that she really should have had to explain herself. All of this is set against the backdrop of Lourdes, with some gentle but effective questioning of the commercialization of this holy site and the assembly-line nature of whisking believers in and out.

The heavier dramatic moments in “The Miracle Club” are offset by some broad but amusing segments featuring the men back home, who are equal parts infuriated and lost. Simple tasks such as grocery shopping and cooking meals are beyond their grasps. Even so, when you’ve got an actor of Stephen Rea’s caliber playing Eileen’s husband, he’ll wring some empathy and authenticity out of the character. “The Miracle Club” contains few surprises, but that’s kind of the point of these kinds of movies, yes? We’re here for the comfort-viewing and the location scenery and the hand-me-a-tissue moments and the sublime performances.

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