...shining light on the media, one review at a time
What if you knew you were going to lose the person you love most before Christmas? Would you cherish your time with that special person today? In the fast pace of modern life, it’s easy to make time for everything except relationships. Those closest to us are often the easiest to push aside for the outside demands that seem more important.
At Christmastime, the hectic pace is only increased, and it becomes all too easy to spend more time trying to do things for loved ones, rather than with them. Sometimes, it takes trials to put such things in perspective. And sometimes, all it takes is a moving story of hope in tragedy like The Heart of Christmas to remind us of what is important at Christmas and in life.
Megan Walsh is the typical modern American, middle-class mom of two. Stressed and constantly in multi-task mode, her self-started business is on fire, meaning she has to balance even more hours of work with soccer games and other afterschool activities. It’s all for a good cause, she has to explain to the kids—if she and their dad don’t work as much as they do, they won’t be able to afford the kids’ college education, careers, a bigger house, etc. The explanation for missing her children’s games and not spending time with them sounds good enough to Megan, until she encounters another not-so-typical American family.
The Lockes are pretty normal until they learn that their three-year-old son Dax, their only child, has leukemia. Seeking the best treatment for his acute form of the disease, Austin and Julie take their son to the renowned St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Their arrival is like getting on a rollercoaster ride of hope and disappointment, but they also discover at St. Jude a new family of supporters and fellow sufferers. The parents of other children at the hospital bring Julie into their fold of comfort, care, and prayer that is a beacon of hope shining in the midst of the dark circumstances that unite these families.
To keep concerned friends and relatives up-to-date, Julie starts to write a blog of Dax’s progress. Julie is slowly, irrevocably changed by the possibility that she will lose her son and the struggle to find his healing. Through her blog, others are able to go through the process of change with her and learn from the deep insights that only trials can bring. Out of this blog, then, comes a much higher purpose, as Julie’s emotional journey as a mother of a dying child she is trying to save becomes the means by which other families, like Megan Walsh’s, can be saved. The Locke and Walsh families, along with a whole neighborhood, learn to value what is truly important and “cherish every moment.”
This film may sound similar to other movies (the advertised plot summary seems nearly identical to November Christmas), but don’t be fooled by the predictable appearance. Based on a true story, The Heart takes a highly realistic and unique approach that most other films haven’t tried. Where other movies skip over the painful details of a cancer battle, this film settles into them, though without ever becoming repulsive or too intense for young viewers.
The movie is far from gritty, but it does make every attempt to bring viewers into a full understanding of these characters’ journey by letting the audience experience the events with them. To begin with, the hospital is fittingly the home for most of The Heart’s scenes, just as it becomes home for the Lockes. Thanks to skilled, practical cinematography, it’s easy to forget the camera is present and instead become fully invested in the struggle of these young parents to save their adorable little boy.
Strong acting performances also deserve the credit for maximizing this film’s impact. Candace Cameron Bure plays a fairly limited role as Megan Walsh, but she makes the best of her screen time, delivering an emotional punch in the moment of climax that unites this film’s two story lines. In the primary plot, which is misleadingly introduced following the subplot, Jeanne Neilson delivers in the demanding and nuanced role of Julie, acting with authenticity and never overselling. She’s complimented well by Eric Beck, who takes an understated approach to his role as Dax’s father, a technique which adds realism, as well as an additional character arc that develops just when needed to lift the story.
The greatest lift to The Heart, however, comes from positive messages and, especially, the Christian content that is sprinkled throughout. The value of human life, sick or “normal,” is illustrated like nothing but a true, beautifully told story can show. Viewers get to see how not only Dax, but also several other children at St. Jude, touch and bless the lives of countless people.
Though “cherish every moment” is the laudable message that is most overtly promoted in the film, The Heart’s most valuable themes emerge from more subtle content, powerfully demonstrating the truth that even in the toughest tragedy, there is a purpose and God is present. The movie illustrates the good that can come from sadness by juxtaposing Megan’s abbreviated story with the Lockes’.
Megan is transformed by reading Julie’s blog and, as a result, her husband, children, and future generations of her family will know how to love each other and stay together. Megan isn’t the only one to be effected positively. By the end of the film, one loses count of the number of people and communities that the Lockes’ ordeal has touched.
Even the Lockes themselves experience much good out of their difficulties and learn to recognize it as such. They realize not only the value of their son, but understand how to view their time, however brief it is, as an incredible blessing. Julie also seems to grow closer to God, as she moves from speaking of “luck” to “blessing” and begins the habit of turning to prayer in the dark times. Through the moving scenes of Christian prayer, in which Julie and other characters plead for comfort and strength, God is recognized as the power that is bigger than their suffering and as their ever present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1).
When watching this film, one may well be surprised, given its title, that Christmas plays a very small role. But viewers won’t be disappointed. No, The Heart isn’t really about Christmas. It’s about life and how best to live it.
Check out these similar titles:
November Christmas (Hallmark Hall of Fame, 2010)
A Season for Miracles (Hallmark Hall of Fame, 1998)
Homeless for the Holidays (Breathe Motion Pictures, 2009)
For more ideas, visit The Christmas List!