Manna From Heaven (2002)


Reviewed by:
Rating:
4
On May 18, 2014
Last modified:May 18, 2015

Summary:

A pious girl tells her family that they can keep the money they find as a gift from heaven, but years later when she is a nun she says it was a loan, so they must return it.

Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 59 min.

Our content rating: V-1; L-1; S/–2.

Our star rating (1-5): 4

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21

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The sophisticated critics have dealt rather harshly with this film, directed by two sisters, Gabrielle C. Burton and Maria Burton. However, the film is so refreshing and adult-oriented, compared to the usual cinemaplex comedy aimed at those with the mentality of a nine year-old, that I found it delightful. A blue collar, extended family in Buffalo think that there dreams are about to be fulfilled when over $20,000 of paper currency floats down in front of their house. They rush out and madly scoop up as many bills as they can stuff into pockets, blouses and pants crotch, running back inside only because they hear the siren of a police car. What we know that they do not is that the money fell out of the back of a van whose driver had not securely closed the door. As they count their windfall, they discuss what to do. The stern mother says it must be given back, but when young Theresa comes in—she has already given away to a needy neighbor the bills she had picked up—the pious girl asserts that it is a gift from God and that the others should split it evenly among themselves. All but the mother are convinced, so they greedily divvy it up.

Years later little has changed for those who took the money. One has opened her beauty shop, another has become a card dealer in a casino, and a couple continue to try to scam the gullible on their way to a fortune. Predictably, Theresa has become a nun, one whose good deeds often lands her in trouble with her superiors. One day, she has a revelation: the money had been sent to them by God as a loan, not a gift. Her urgent message to come back to Buffalo brings everyone together again. They are not pleased at her message, but she is able to convince them that, as it is Lent, they must do penance by raising the money—all have spent the original–and give it back to whomever it belongs. The resultant planning and scheming leads to an enjoyable climax, especially when the key to the origin of the money is revealed by an intensely unhappy patient at the home where Sister Theresa frequently ministers.

The action takes place from Ash Wednesday through Holy week and Easter, a neat use of the church calendar that churched viewers will enjoy. The ensemble cast includes veterans and newcomers: Frank Gorshin as Ed; Shirley Jones as Bunny; Cloris Leachman is Rita; Wendie Malick; Inez; Drew Pillsbury, Mac/Bake; and Ursula Burton, Sister Theresa (yes, she’s related to the directors—there are apparently five of them, their company called Five Sisters Productions, the other sisters serving as producers). Plus, in smaller roles there are Louise Fletcher and Shelley Duvall. Quite an ensemble cast that delivers some laughs and a few insights into the quirks of human nature, the church, and of God.

You pastors might want to keep this film in mind for the fall, when church stewardship campaigns start up again. How is Sister Theresa’s contention that the money is a loan from God a good basis for understanding Christian stewardship? (Relate this to the hymn, so often sung in Protestant churches as the offering plates are brought forward during the Offertory part of the liturgy, “We Give Thee But Thine Own.”) How do the various ways in which the family members relate to the money define, or reveal, their character? What does the film say about the possibility of people changing? (Are there “conversions” in the film?)

A pious girl tells her family that they can keep the money they find as a gift from heaven, but years later when she is a nun she says it was a loan, so they must return it.

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