“Miracle in the Woods” (1997) Movie Review Blog

My husband and I like to settle in when our schedules are not conflicting, and our evenings are free to watch a few good movies until the wee hours of the morning. One night this week, we came across this movie that we had never seen before and thought we would give it a try.  Released in October 1997, Miracle in the Woods is a drama directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman.

If you have never seen it before, which I am sure you have, the key cast members are Della Reese (Lilly Cooper), Meredith Baxter (Sarah Weatherby), Patricia Heaton (Wanda Briggs), Anna Chlumsky (Gina Weatherby | Field Pea), Randy Brooks (Henry Cooper, Sr.), Sanaa Lathan (Young Lilly Cooper), Mark Joy (Jerry Weatherby), Tim DeZarn (Corrupt Sheriff), David Hunt (Eddie Briggs) and Thom Gossom, Jr. (Henry Copper, Jr.).

Set in the south, the movie begins at the funeral of Emma, the mother of Sarah and Wanda, and the grandmother of Gina. From the beginning, I assumed the plot would be the typical storyline of the child who stayed home to care for an ailing parent vs the child who was too successful to bother. Even the day of the funeral and burial, Sarah was preoccupied and just didn’t have time for grieving it appeared.

Quarreling sisters, Meredith’s character was set up as the villain in this tale of six women. At the onset, Sarah was definitely the character I was going to hate in this movie. My disrespect for her was justified at the reading of her late mother’s will – so I thought.

Their elderly mother had meager belongings to leave her daughters, but they both soon realized that a one hundred acre piece of prime real estate the family owned called Pecan Grove was not mentioned in the will at all.  Upon their excursion to investigate the property, they find it overgrown and unkept. They also discovered their daddy’s old pecan shack was occupied by a secret tenant, Lilly Copper, whom no one ever told them about.

For the estranged sisters, the battle between them escalated when Sarah insisted on selling the property as soon as possible and evicting the long-time tenant their mother had allowed to live there. Wanda’s resistance and desire to keep the property in the family did not deter Sarah from moving forward. She wanted her fifty percent, but unknowing to her, and against her wishes, her daughter, Gina befriends Lilly which puts her on a quest to find her long-lost son. 

Lilly, when she first laid eyes on Gina, believed that she was someone from her past, “Field Pea,” who turns out to be Gina’s deceased great-grandmother, Edith. Living on the property with a family of cats, and the stories she told, you would have thought that Lilly suffered from the onset of some form of Alzheimer’s – but she did not (well, maybe slightly).  She was just an old woman holding on the hope of finding her long-lost son, Henry Cooper, Jr. Touched by Lilly’s story, Gina becomes her friend and companion opening up a host of lost memories.

Showing flashbacks of Lilly’s plight, her husband’s moonshining, her encounter with a corrupt sheriff, and the injustice she suffered – her pain had come full circle. Enlisting her Aunt Wanda’s help, Gina went on a journey of compassion to assist her grandmother’s secret tenant in uncovering the truth. But, Sarah still was not moved. Behind everyone’s back, she fueled a vindictive plan to sell that property no matter what it took, including getting the law involved and having Lilly thrown out and committed to a hospital, and finding a buyer for the land.   

With my emotions high, I was infuriated watching this movie at this point. Sarah was greedy, self-serving, and I could not stand her – the character that is. Granted it was a nice chunk of change, all she was concerned about was her fifty percent, $75.000.00. She pretended that it was in Lilly’s best interest, but everyone knew whose interest she was serving – her own. Portraying Lilly as a senile ole biddy fabricating a story of being a mother.

However, the plot thickened when it was disclosed why Sarah was so persistent in selling that property. Her husband, Jerry, was in jail – indicted on fraud charges. She is under so much pressure to raise his bail money to get him out. She is a lost sheep herself, proud, scared and facing ruin – she was doing the best she could with the cards she has been dealt. I felt bad for her then. Caught between a rock-and-a-hard-place with no one to rely on but herself. In spite of Lilly’s pain, and her sister and daughter’s alliance with her, Sarah felt she had to help her husband regardless who she hurt and alienated in the process. “Good, Ms. Cooper’s gonna need a place to live cause I sold the land.”

OH, THE JOY THAT FLOOD MY SOUL when Lilly, on her hospital bed, revealed that their mother, Emma, had given her the Pecan Grove property – “papers and everything.” We literally had to take a praise break. That is why it was not in the will! I pitied Sarah and Jerry’s predicament, but she was going about solving it the wrong way.  The good thing is, this turn of events thrust Sarah into a moment of truth with her sister and her daughter – realizing the errors of her ways, she went on a journey to make amends.  In a rush against time, she units Lilly with her long lost son, Henry Cooper, Jr.

Toward the end, Miracle in the Woods was a tear-jerker – intense and soul searching. “Do you think you can find him, can you find him?” A mother’s longing heart, aching for a child that’s lost in the world. You can always depend on Della Reese for a spiritually uplifting and thought provoking performance. I was in tears for the entire ten-minute ending of this movie. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend you watch Miracle in the Woods.

“Miracle in the Woods” (1997) Movie Review Blog ~~~ Yvonne James  https://www.yvonnejames.com

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