Review by Sean Boelman
Every year, especially around the holidays, there is a deluge of Christian faith-based dramas, a majority of which are nearly if not entirely insufferable. There aren’t as many films based on other religions, and so The Lady of Heaven is unique in that regard, but it isn’t unique in that it’s just as maudlin as its Abrahamic cousin’s counterparts.
The movie tells the story of Lady Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, and the tremendous backlash she faced when her husband Ali is named the successor of the Prophet. However, the framing device of the story, following a young boy whose mother is murdered by violent terrorists, is what moves this from bland historical drama to emotionally cheap sermon.
One of the most frustrating things about the film is that it doesn’t seem to know its audience. Muslim audiences who are old enough to see the movie (it is rated R due to an extreme amount of blood and violence) will already know this story, and non-Muslim audiences may be off-put by the didacticism.
It’s a shame, because the message of the film is undeniably a good one, regardless of what creed one comes from. There are a lot of assumptions made about people of the Islamic faith, and this movie sets out to disprove a lot of those misconceptions. It means well, but ultimately, those who need to hear it the most aren’t going to be those who are going to hear it.
The pacing of the film is also pretty insane. There are massive, bloody battle sequences spread throughout that imply that the filmmaker’s don’t trust the audience to be invested in the story otherwise. Yet even though the movie has a lot of action in it, it manages to feel extremely dull nevertheless.
Something that is really interesting about the film’s execution is that, in accordance with the Islamic faith, no one actor or actress can play a holy figure. And as such, a majority of the movie is shot with creative tactics to avoid this issue. The rest of the cast is not impressive, though, delivering the mediocre dialogue in a stilted way.
From a technical level, the film isn't all that strong. It’s clear that the budget isn’t as large as that of a mainstream historical epic, resulting in a lot of scenes feeling like cheap reenactments rather than the large-scale spic this is trying to be. The movie also does some of the cheaply emotional tricks that you’d expect from a religious film like this.
The Lady of Heaven is a noble attempt at making something different in terms of the religious movies, but it falls victim to a lot of the traps of the genre. The message is expectedly well-intentioned, even if the film does struggle to get it across.
The Lady of Heaven is now in theaters.
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