Colton Burpo’s been to Heaven, and he wants you to know that it’s for real.
In 2010, Todd Burpo’s account of his son Colton’s experience in Heaven lit up the New York Times Bestseller list, Christian bookstores, and regular bookstores alike.
As someone who worked in a bookstore at the time it was released, I can tell you that Heaven is For Real flew off the shelves like hotcakes. Now, Randall Wallace (Braveheart, We Were Soldiers, Secretariat) has adapted the best-selling book into a mostly joyful and emotional look at faith, family, and personal doubts.
Heaven is For Real works because it doesn’t preach. There’s no agenda, and there’s no axe to grind. It’s a hopeful account of one family’s encounter with Heaven, and the encouragement and joy that emerged from that. It’s less about trying to prove to nonbelievers that “Heaven is for real” than it is about contemplating our own beliefs and learning how to cope when our faith is challenged.
In that, I appreciated the film’s willingness to tackle the doubts of those around Colton head-on. There’s a very different version of this movie that goes, “our son went to Heaven, so it’s real and the whole world knows that now. Life is great, hallelujah!” Heaven is For Real is not that movie.
This film doesn’t shy away from the doubts and struggles that arrive because of Colton’s heavenly trip, most of all from his own father — a man who asks people to believe in Heaven from behind the pulpit every week, but has trouble believing his son’s encounter was anything more than a dream.
Greg Kinnear brings a certain gravitas to the film, and perfectly portrays a man trying to come to terms with what Colton’s experience means for his life.
Arguably the biggest downside for many viewers will be the actual sequences of Colton visiting Heaven. For me, the film could have been made with these scenes merely discussed, but it’s easy to understand how the filmmakers would want Heaven to actually be seen in a movie called Heaven is For Real.
Nevertheless, the trouble with entering the ream of depicting Heaven in a film is that it will almost always come off as corny or unrealistic — it will never do Heaven justice, or meet people’s expectations of what Heaven looks like.
+ Greg Kinnear brings an important gravitas to the film
+ Wonderful performance from newcomer 6-year old Connor Corum as Colton
+ The movie doesn’t preach
+ A fresh look at doubts and the struggle of belief within communities of faith
+ Mostly faithful to the book
+ Deeply emotional scenes feel authentic
– Heaven sequences can come off as corny or unrealistic
– The film doesn’t go nearly as deep into all of Colton’s experiences as the book about his encounters does
– May be less interesting for the more skeptical of viewers
Heaven is For Real is a successfully-told story full of thoughtful, heartfelt, funny, and emotional moments. Greg Kinnear and Connor Corum bring near-perfect chemistry to the story of a father who struggles through a crisis of faith when his son visits Heaven. The film finds its heart in its focus on familial love — both in physical families, as well as communities such as a church body — and learning to love each other in the here and now (which wasn’t really the crux of the book, but is still a solid and heartfelt story element). The scenes in Heaven may come off corny to some viewers, but Heaven is For Real is an earnest look at faith and doubt that remains entertaining throughout.
Heaven is For Real is rated PG for “thematic material.” It doesn’t have much of anything in the area of offensive content, but I would not recommend the film for younger children, simply because it deals with some of life’s biggest questions that they just may not be able to wrap their heads around yet.
© Matt Tory, 2014.