A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Heaven Is for Real is a faith-based family drama inspired by Nebraska pastor Todd Burpo's best-selling memoir about his son Colton's alleged experiences in heaven when he was 4 years old. The movie, like the book, proposes that, during surgery, young Colton (who never died on the operating table) somehow visited heaven, proving that the afterlife exists. While there's not much questionable content in the movie overall, a few scenes show characters in pain or injured, and there's one scene in which the Burpos' school-aged daughter punches two boys making fun of her brother. There's also a fair bit of kissing and marital affection (though certainly nothing that could be considered graphic), as well as one suggestive (but unheard) comment. Young kids may not understand some of the movie's mature issues, and some families may feel more comfortable with the religious subject matter than others.
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What's the story?
In HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) is Imperial, Nebraska's, jack of all trades: He's head pastor at an evangelical church, a volunteer for the fire department, a wrestling coach at the high school, and the owner of a garage door company. He and his wife, Sonja (Kelly Reilly), are having financial problems, so after two back-to-back injuries (a leg fracture and kidney stones) force Todd into taking a sabbatical, the couple takes their two adorable tow-headed children on a mini vacation. Both kids get sick, and Colton (Connor Corum), their 4-year-old son, ends up with acute appendicitis, requiring emergency surgery. After Colton recuperates, he tells his parents that, during the operation, he visited heaven. At first, his parents think the stories are part of Colton's imagination, but as he begins to recall meeting dead relatives he never met and specific details about Jesus and angels, the Burpos believe. But will anyone else?
Is it any good?
Based on Todd Burpo's 2010 memoir of the same name, Heaven Is for Real is an expressly Christian film made with established actors, and the performances are notably thoughtful. Kinnear plays Todd Burpo as a man of God who's also a concerned citizen and even an occasional doubting Thomas. He doesn't blindly accept what Colton says about heaven (at first), and he struggles with reconciling Colton's revelations with his own faith and pastoral responsibilities (can he really, as the head of a congregation, tell everyone that his kid actually went to heaven and hung out with Jesus?).
The other adult actors are also quite genuine in their roles, particularly Reilly as Todd's supportive wife and character actress extraordinaire Margo Martindale as a church trustee who's initially skeptical about Todd's claims about Colton's experiences. Colton himself is almost distractingly cute, and Corum manages to be sweetly straightforward about the movie's spiritual material. Your overall feelings about Heaven Is for Real's messages will likely depend on whether you believe Burpo's story. But as a movie, it's a well-acted biographical tale of a family changed forever by their son's declarations about what's waiting in the hereafter.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can discuss who you think Heaven Is for Real is intended to appeal to. Do you think it's for people who already profess a faith, or will it appeal to others equally?
How would you describe the movie's point of view about faith?
The movie is based on a memoir. Do you believe that Connor might have actually visited heaven? Why or why not? Does it matter whether you believe?
- In theaters: April 16, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: July 22, 2014
- Cast: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church
- Director: Randall Wallace
- Studio: Sony Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic material including some medical situations
- Last updated: March 13, 2020
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