Heaven is for Real is the latest in a series of low-budget religious movies put out by Hollywood to capture the elusive "movies are too risqué for me" dollar. The movie adapts a 2010 book by Pastor Todd Burpo (whose name they really should have changed for the movie because it's hard to take him seriously) about the time his 4-year-old son Colton had a particularly vivid dream. About going to Heaven!
Heaven is lightly plotted and feels padded at only 100 minutes. Entire sequences are unrelated to later events including Todd's leg breaking slide into third base in a softball game, and several minutes of him screaming as he passes a kidney stone. It's almost a half hour into the movie that Colton has his vision about heaven and starts surprising adults with it. (The kidney stones are never mentioned again.)
The adults take Colton's dream about heaven so seriously because "Everything he says is impossible!" and his memory of Heaven is "very specific." The alleged specificity consists of exchanges like this:
"Dad, did you know Jesus rides a horse?"
"What color is the horse, Colton?"
"All the colors!"
Specificity is for real too, Colton, and that wasn't it.
Equally vague are Colton's claims that "Heaven is beautiful" and "nobody wears glasses in Heaven." I'm more persuaded by the portrayal of the afterlife in All Dogs Go To Heaven, though both movies agree that there will be domesticated animals in paradise.
Colton's other trick (the one that is "impossible") is pointing at photos and saying, "That's not what Jesus looks like," or, "Yes, grandpa looked like that." Even the worst attorney could get these photo arrays tossed out.
The most unnerving part of the movie is the sexual relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Burpo. Early on, they make out more aggressively than I'd expect—and then, while chiding her husband for doing something annoying, Mama Burpo says that if he does it again she'll "Whip him like a dog." Pastor Burps responds, "That doesn't sound so bad." It's an odd joke for a movie like this (or not a joke?), but it's also a sign that these two don't know how to treat dogs. Dogs should never be whipped except in Hell, where they won't go because they're dogs.
The movie goes to great pains to show that Pastor Todd was in bad financial straits while this was all happening, which only reinforces the cynical feeling I get from it: The pastor uses his son's magical experience to greatly increase attendance at his church, which had been suffering from low turnout. The movie even ends with, like all great works of cinema, an ad for the book it was based on. While the Burpos seem to be going through a great struggle of how to deal with Colton's little trip to Heaven, I can't help but feel they were really just struggling to find the best way to capitalize on it.