Friday, April 8, 2011

Soul Surfer

MPAA (PG) CNS/USCCB (A-II) Roger Ebert (2 1/2 stars) Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

Soul Surfer (directed by Sean McNamara and co-written by him along with Deborah Schwartz and others) is a very nice story about Bethany Hamilton (played by Anna Sofia Robb) a cheerful 13 year old, who along with her best friend Alana Blanchard (played by Lorraine Nicholson) was growing-up in rural Hawaii, home schooled, surfing and attending a local Christian youth group, the youth group leader, Sarah, played by Carrie Underwood.

Bethany had loving parents (played by Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid) as well as two older brothers. Life was good and she had dreams of becoming a champion surfer until one day she lost an arm (up to the shoulder) to a freak shark attack. Suddenly life had changed in all kinds of ways, both temporary and permanent. Remember folks, she was 13 at the time. And she does ask her youth group director: "How could this have been part of God’s plan?"

The rest of the movie is about answering that question and the plot proves not entirely predictable.  I do believe that throughout the movie there is an interplay of both blessedness and tragedy. At the beginning Bethany was growing up healthy, carefree, with a loving family and great friends in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. And to the movie’s credit, it does not apologize for that. Yes, growing-up a teenager in rural Hawaii, night surfing to the full moon and fireworks would be wonderful. Then she has her accident, what now?

Part of the answer does come when she goes with her youth group to Thailand to help survivors of the tsunami in its immediate aftermath. The contrast of images is so striking and poignant. The very same waves so beloved by the young people of Hawaii had caused so much destruction to others, including kids, in Thailand. And yet it’s not the waves’ fault. They can bring both joy and destruction. Once again, what to do now?

Without saying a word, the movie reminds us that Christianity is a faith that believes that any situation can become an invitation to kindness and any situation, indeed any tragedy, can be redeemed. 

ONE LAST NOTE, and one which I am not the only one to have noticed: In a movie, where almost all the protagonists were blond, Bethany’s one (surfing) rival in the movie, Malina Birch (played by Sonya Balmores) was brunette and one who had a propensity throughout the whole movie to wear (and always compete in) black. I found the symbolism unfortunate (carrying racial overtones) and I do believe that the movie would have been better served if the rival was either cast or dressed in a different way.  I mention this as one of a very small number of criticisms (though since I do mention it, IMHO a noteworthy one) of an otherwise outstanding youth-oriented film.

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