Movies that feature a teen that finds her inner strength and overcomes the odds are exactly new. I know stories like this are usually built on cliché; and I have often said that sometimes (or oftentimes), life is cliché. “Soul Surfer” does have an incredible story to work with fortunately, as it dramatizes the life of pro-surfer Bethany Hamilton. She was a 13-year old with an incredible story to tell, as she faces the ultimate test of will and determination. Supported by her family, her friends and community, with her faith to rely on, Bethany faces the waves that took her arm and at the same time it renews her love for the oceanic environment and has given her a new perspective on life.
Bethany Hamilton (Anna Sophia Robb) is a young girl raised by parents (played by Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt) who love surfing and given the drive to compete by her brothers; seemed destined for a bright future in surfing. One day, while out on the waves training with her best friend, Alana (Lorraine Nicholson), Bethany is attacked by a shark and she loses her left arm. Returning from this tragedy is no easy task, as Bethany may have to make a new life without surfing. She looks for counsel through her youth pastor (Carrie Underwood) and support from her family and friends. With her love for the water and surfing unfazed, Bethany takes to the waters again, little does she know that she is shaping her own legendary story…
I suppose even director Sean McNamara is sort of making a comeback after his recent 2007 live-action film “Bratz” as he weaves a tale about a teen, her religious faith, and a simple story about courage and comebacks. McNamara does keep things flowing and he maintains a balance between all the elements of the book with the same name. McNamara makes this biopic quite competent and honestly, very enjoyable; despite what I’ve read that this was originally slated to play in a limited number of theaters. He keeps things grounded as he avoids the film from becoming a countdown to the shark attack and a story of comebacks. Don’t misunderstand me, the film is all those things, but I liked the way he kept the film sincere and rewarding with its endearing themes of family, perseverance and courage and even maintains a coherent execution amidst the potentials for a chaotic premise.
Yes, Bethany’s family had strong religious values and yes, the film is a simple, straight-forward tale of recuperation and sporting fortitude, but McNamara never drowns his audience with either one or the other. The direction remembered to pay attention to Bethany’s family as he also gives the community where she lives in their needed exposure. In this way, McNamara also takes his time to develop the lead character, and while the religious overtones were strong throughout, it was carefully defined by the direction; it never feels like a recruitment drive but rather, it really feels like a real ingredient that defined this family. (I did notice that some of Bethany’s real interviews were altered though) The elements were given solidarity as it defined Bethany as a free-spirited, courageous young girl with a very strong moral code. Bethany is shown as a loving girl who loves her family and even with her competitive nature, she maintains that sense of respect towards her fellow competitors.
It also helps when Robb just comes in with quite an endearing performance as the lead. I know she looked a lot older than the real Bethany was, but Robb was good for the role. Quaid and Hunt makes for a good pair but I truly had mixed feelings about Carrie Underwood’s performance. McNamara does come out with some spectacular scenes of surfing. I was truly impressed how he managed to get each shot that seemed to complement the next. I truly felt that I was riding the waves myself. The film is gorgeous, and the beauty of the landscape is just stunning. I also liked the fact that McNamara didn’t cheapen the shark attack itself. He makes it suspenseful and I was made to be concerned with what would happen next. It never feels sensationalized and the scenes seemed to fly by rather quickly. It does have the feel of a horrific event though, and it felt quite natural.
“Soul Surfer” is a simple film with a fine articulation for the life of a young woman, whose tragic turn in her life became her one defining moment. I know some parts of the film seemed to dawdle a little too much, but I never felt manipulated or fooled by the film. It is easy to dismiss a film with all these ingredients, but McNamara has made a competent motion picture that maintained its veracity even when it came dangerously close to canned drama. I also loved the way the film ended; as you see the pure passion Bethany has for her sport. Competition is not for proving yourself in the eyes of others, but for the fellowship and respect that comes from it. See how quickly honor is followed by victory? That is a timeless message that we all need to be reminded.
"What does it feel like?" After the question of just how my deformed arm came to be deformed, that's probably the question people ask me the most. My answer to the question has never changed: I can't give an honest, accurate view of exactly what it FEELS like to have a short arm, an immobile wrist, and only half of a hand. I don't feel qualified to give an answer to such a question, because I've never had anything else to compare it to. This deformity is something I was born … more
When is there a better time to have a truly inspirational movie than during these current harsh economical times? Nowadays it seems we could all use a little bit of a push towards our fight for a happy life. Whether it’s a financial hardship, a personal insecurity, or simply the cons of learning to surf - Soul Surfer will teach that the human mind is capable of achieving the impossible. … more
Star Rating: If Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours was meant to inspire adults, Soul Surfer is a film perfectly suited to inspire younger audiences. Both are true stories about thrill seekers who lose a limb due to the forces of nature; this time around, the subject is Hawaii native and champion surfer Bethany Hamilton, who on October 31, 2003, at the age of thirteen, had her left arm bitten off by a shark. Despite her handicap and the obvious emotional shock, she … more