By Ann Aubrey Hanson
“Once upon a time…” From the opening seconds of the film, the viewer knows that the new independent-release film “Manna from Heaven” will not be a run-of-the-mill movie. It’s part fairy tale, part morality play. And completely entertaining for the entire family.
Thirty years ago, in a neighborhood in Buffalo, N.Y., the Annunciata family and their friends experienced a gift from heaven, $20 bills literally falling from the sky. With no outcry raised about the disappearance of the money, they decide to divide it six ways and use it to pursue their deepest desires. One couple wants to go on the dance circuit, to pursue the elusive championship that they know is just waiting for them. Another in the group wants to travel the world. Still another wants to own a beauty salon. Their dreams all seem possible with the small fortune in their grasp.
Fast forward to current day, and we find that none of the group has succeeded. Some continue to pursue their dream, fanning the tiny spark of hope, while others have let it die.
Enter Sister Theresa, youngest Annunciata child, who is recently returned from serving as a missionary in the tropics. On Ash Wednesday, Sister Theresa comes to understand that the money she thought had been a gift from God was only a loan from Him, and they have until Easter to pay it back.
Theresa calls the entire original group back to Buffalo and explains they must repay the loan. Of course, none of them have the money anymore. It’s long gone and there’s no way to pay it back.
The group decides to hold a car raffle and a waltz contest to raise the funds, and the movie takes off from there. Ultimately, the characters find that it is only in giving to others that they, in turn, truly receive, and, thus, attain happiness.
The movie is about hope — glorious, redemptive hope.
The film features strong performances by such notables as Shirley Jones, Faye Grant, Wendy Malick, Frank Gorshin, Louise Fletcher, Shelley Duvall, Austin Pendleton and Cloris Leachman, among others. Not one of the stellar cast makes a play for stand-out recognition; rather, the stars are willing to subsume themselves into the ensemble performances so necessary for a film of this kind.
The movie is witty and thought-provoking, and it features some delightful toss-away lines of unexpected depth and emotion. In fact, viewers will want to see the film a second time just to pick up those lines dropped by the side the first go-round. Indeed, it might be more entertaining the second viewing. It’s great on so many levels.
The film will open at three theatres in San Diego on Friday, June 13: Pacific Towne Square in Clairmont, at the Gaslamp Pacific Theatre in the Gaslamp District and at the AMC Fashion Valley. One of the AMC Fashion Valley shows on June 13 will be a benefit for Habitat for Humanity, with whom Five Sisters Productions partners. If the film does well the first weekend, it will be held over for additional screenings.
Moviegoers, especially families, say they’d like better fare to choose from at the movies. Well, it’s here. Now it’s time to place your vote at the box office. Go see “Manna from Heaven” and make it possible for more films of this quality to be produced and showcased.