Agnes O'Casey doesn't have the name recognition of Laura Linney, Maggie Smith and Kathy Bates, but the actress more than holds her own in scenes opposite the highly talented trio in "The Miracle Club."
Making her feature-film debut in the movie bound for theaters this week, O'Casey (BBC One's Ridley Road) portrays a mother of two whose older child, Daniel (Eric D. Smith), has never spoken a word, which causes her great distress. She brings real humanity to her scenes.
Mostly, though, this period drama from Irish filmmaker Thaddeus O'Sullivan concerns itself with the decadeslong shared past of the three women portrayed by Linney, Smith and Bates, a past full of heartache and resentment.
Never quite as engrossing as you'd hope but nonetheless charming and relatable, "The Miracle Club" is set in 1967 in Ballygar, a working-class community in Dublin.
It is home to Lily (Smith), Eileen (Bates) and Dolly (O'Casey), all of whom attend the local Catholic church presided over by a sympathetic priest, Father Dermot (Mark O'Halloran)
The church is set to host both a funeral for a friend of the women, Maureen, and a talent-show fundraiser
Lily and Eileen are taken aback when Maureen's estranged daughter, Chrissie, arrives in town for the funeral, coming all the way from Boston after 40 years away from Ballygar. It's clear they're not thrilled to see her and that the feeling is mutual.
Chrissie attempts to reimburse Lily for money spent on flower arrangements, but the latter pushes the money away from her.
"I don't need that," she says. "It was an honor — your mother was a saint."
Why the bad blood? All of that will become clear over the course of the film, penned by Jimmy Smallhorne, Timothy Prager and Joshua D. Maurer, with Smallhorne credited with the story.
The fundraiser, along with some generosity from others, allows for Lily, Eileen and Dolly to go with Father Dermot to the French town of Lourdes, believed to be a place of miracles and visited by millions yearly. Each has a reason to go, Dolly's hope being that God will compel her son to speak.
Chrissie decides to tag along, frustrating Eileen and Lily but not Dolly, who sees her as a perfectly pleasant person.
During their time in Lourdes, culminating in a trip to its famed baths for each of them, they will learn a bit about themselves and each other.
Meanwhile, back in Ballygar, each of the men left behind by Lily, Eileen and Dolly gets on in his own way. The most notable of the trio, the curmudgeonly Frank (Stephen Rea of "The Crying Game"), who forbade Eileen from going on the trip.
The latter element of "The Miracle Club" is under-explored. Yes, the majority of the runtime should be devoted to the female characters, but how their male counterparts relate to them — and perhaps take them for granted — could have been given more time considering this isn't a long film.
That the story is a little under-cooked in general is made up for by the on-screen work of the foursome. Linney is, as we've come to expect, terrific, masterful in subtle acting. And Smith ("Downton Abbey") and Bates ("Misery") give more reserved performances than you may expect, but their characters' emotional pain comes through, as does that of Linney's.
And then there's the previously discussed O'Casey, whose Dolly carries around anger at herself. More of O'Casey in the future, please.
So, yes, you're left wanting a little more from "The Miracle Club," but what's there does have the intended soul-nourishing effect.
'THE MIRACLE CLUB'
2.5 stars (out of 4)
MPA rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements and some language)
Running time: 1:31
How to watch: In theaters Friday
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