The story of Bethany Hamilton, a Christian surfer who lost her left arm in a shark attack at the age of 13 before going on to become one of the sport’s all-time legends, is a pretty remarkable story. So good, it probably deserves a better movie than Soul Surfer — but if solid intentions count for anything, this one is an overwhelming winner.
Granted, faith-based movies are, traditionally, uphill battles; the budgets are limited, thus, so is the talent. And while Soul Surfer has its hurdles — the highlight of the director’s resume wobbles between Disney Channel sitcoms and movies based on toys, the script is a little uneven and as an actress, Carrie Underwood is sure a wonderful singer — there are a couple of lifesavers on deck here.
Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid play Bethany’s parents in Soul Surfer and they’re awesome; she, the former Oscar winner, he, the man who unfailingly flashes that I-can-see-your-underwear grin whenever it’s needed. With the natural ease that can only come from decades in front of the camera, they manage to not only add credibility to every scene they’re a part of, they raise the bar for every other player that isn’t perhaps as … er, seasoned.
AnnaSophia Robb (Escape To Witch Mountain) plays Bethany with as much gusto as she can. This isn’t an easy role, especially when director Sean McNamara handles some scenes with the emotional weight they merit, others like a Hallmark movie of the week. Then again, Soul Surfer is corny in a lovable kind of way. If you’re a stickler for believable dialogue, it might drive you crazy. If you’re in it for an uplifting ride, it’s actually quite endearing. Again, you’d be hard pressed to find a more amazing tale than Hamilton’s.
Finally, don’t let Jaws-inspired nightmares keep you from making Soul Surfer a family outing; this is the kind of movie kids should see. Maybe not for the love of intricate filmmaking, but for the inspirational jolt this one will deliver. And while Soul Surfer is maybe a tiny bit guilty of manipulating your feelings (and really, isn’t that what a gooey score is for?), it’s not preachy. And yes, there is a difference.
Out of a possible five stars, I’ll give Soul Surfer a three. The feature is coming soon to the Pen-Mar Cinema Centre.
Jason Armstrong is a movie reviewer living in the Okanagan.