The Miracle Worker (2002)


Our rating: 5 out of 5

Rated: PG

reviewed by Charity Bishop


The large, glassy eyes of young Hallie Kate Eisenberg may give her a dollish appearance, but the child she portrays in this production is anything but doll-like. Young Helen Keller has been blind and deaf since struck with a toddler illness, leaving her unable to communicate, often frustrated, and over-petted by her stern father and weak-willed mother. Additionally, she is loathed by her older brother James (Lucas Black), who believes that his sister, quite literally, can get away with murder. When Captain Keller (David Strathairn) threatens his wife with placing Helen into an institution, Kate (Kate Greenhouse) desperately seeks help from the blind association. Annie Sullivan (Alison Elliott), a former blind girl and now teacher, is sent to deal with the problem.


Helen immediately hates her, and Annie's frustrations are intensified by the family way of simply giving in to the wild child living underneath their roof. Helen is babied and often "rewarded" with candy to keep her out of trouble. Kate believes that Annie is far too indifferent and cruel to Helen, and the Captain believes it's all balderdash. The only one who even remotely believes that Annie can succeed is the pert-tongued James. Believing that the only way she can even begin to teach Helen sign language is to remove her from her family, Annie lobbies for time alone with the child. But the Captain only gives her two weeks. Two weeks to create a miracle... or leave in disgrace. The film is very supple with excellent performances by the two leads, although some of the minor actors left a little something to be desired. The costuming is gorgeous and from what I can tell the story follows the true tale of Helen Keller very aptly. Young Hallie is particularly believable in the role of a blind child and viewers will be astonished to learn that the little girl can, in fact, see. I would tentatively caution away young children from seeing this due to Helen's often violent temper tantrums.


Likewise, Annie realizes that the only way to teach the child is to be understandably rough with her. This alarms the mother, angers the father, and gains applause from the elder brother, but eventually Helen succumbs to what Annie is attempting to teach her. It follows a very adult theme with many excellent lessons in perseverance and child-rearing. There are some thematic elements and painful things in Annie's past that younger viewers might show concern over, but overall it's a very well made and acceptable production. You grow to really feel a kinship with Annie and her difficulty in teaching a child that cannot comprehend what is happening around her. At times you want to smack Helen, at other times you want to hug her. The film has a dozen spots that glitter and will bring a smile, even to the point of Annie making Helen jealous. My only complaint is the ending, which leaves you longing to see another film that takes place when Helen is older.