Manna From Heaven has won a host of film awards. It was the little independent comedy that could. The movie became a darling of the festival circuit. It is frequently the case that films the festivals love either suck (Blair Witch Project) or aren't everything they are built up to be. Manna From Heaven belongs to the latter grouping.
Money floats down from the sky having bounced out of a mysterious red box truck. Enter Theresa the little saint who pronounces that the money is a gift from God. Everyone must divide the money equally and use it to improve themselves. Everyone in the family gets 3300 each - more than a years salary in the 1950's.
Cut to a time many years late when Theresa (now a nun) comes to the conclusion that the money was just a loan from God and now the money needs to be returned by Easter Sunday - a six week lead for everyone who received some of the money in the first place to pay it back. The problem is that her family is made up of a group which is alternately larcenous or deluded and has no desire to pay the money back.
The cast assembled here is superb and do an amazing job with what is essentially a weaker than average script. The great Frank Gorshin (Ed), Shirley Jones (Bunny), Wendy Malick (Inez), Cloris Leachman (Helen), Louise Fletcher (Mother Superior), Seymour Cassel (Stanley), Jill Eikenberry (Dottie ), Harry Groener (Tony) and a surprising performance by Faye Grant (Rita) drive this movie even when the camera work and script are slowing it down. For some bizarre reason Shelly Duval (Detective Dubrinski) gets billing for all of about 60 seconds worth of non descript work in this movie.
The plot is indeed Capra-esque as the DVD cover promises. To raise the money to pay back the "loan" from God this dysfunctional clan decides to hold a fundraiser in the name of a nonexistent charity they dub Friends of Sister Theresa. Left in the hands of a Hollywood production machine this movie could have descended into absolute absurdity and mayhem.
Five Sisters Productions have their own people behind the camera in the form of Gabrielle Burton and Maria Burton with Ursula Burton in front of the camera as Sister Theresa and they keep the lid on just enough to make the whole story believable enough to make it all work.
There is a neat little sub plot to all of this which follows Mac an investigator with the U.S. Secret Service who is interested in the origins of the original fortune. This part of the story plays out mostly with Inez (Wendy Malick flawless as usual) and Mac doing a kind of modern day Bogie and Bacal pas de deux which could have been a movie in its own right.
Amid the fractured lives, lies, self-delusion and anger there lives hope in all of these people and Sister Theresa is the focus of that hope. She is what they all aspire to even if they don't understand it. Sister Theresa is what even the Mother Superior and Monsignor aspire to. This is a gentle comedy with some great talent and well worth your time.