John McCarthy on 'Soul Surfer'

A mainstream movie with mainstream stars about a devout Christian with an overtly Christian message?  Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid star in "Soul Surfer," a buzzed-about film opening on Friday.  John McCarthy in an online Culture piece takes a look at the movie about a surfer's brush with tragedy and her response in faith.  (AnnaSophia Robb plays Bethany Hamilton, the young surfer.)  And Kerry Weber interviewed Dennis Quaid for a podcast that will be up later today.  First's here's McCarthy:

During the climax of “Soul Surfer,” the story of shark-bitten Hawaii teenager Bethany Hamilton, we’re told judges score surf competitions on three criteria—style, flow and power. The movie itself rates middling numbers in the first two categories, yet it scores high marks for its spiritual power.

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The key to “Soul Surfer” is the deep Christian faith of the Hamilton family. Since a bright line between the secular and spiritual is never drawn, those inclined to bracket religion when entering the entertainment zone may feel stymied. Yet while the filmmakers hardly avoid Bethany’s religiosity, they’re careful not to douse this sports comeback yarn with Jesus talk. Consequently, only the prickliest atheist could take offense; and born-again athletes will be, well, totally stoked.

“Soul Surfer” is a rarity: a fact-based, family-oriented film that’s being marketed to Christian audiences and which also stands a strong chance of drawing in a wide cross-section of moviegoers. Unlike “The Blind Side,” the picture lacks the backing of a major Hollywood studio and a bankable star such as Sandra Bullock. It can boast the fine young actress AnnaSophia Robb playing Bethany, Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt as her parents, Tom and Cheri, and, in her big-screen debut, singer Carrie Underwood. Production-wise, it has beautiful island locales and a competent behind-the-camera team.

Most significantly, “Soul Surfer” revolves around an easy-to-underestimate athlete with the spiritual and physical wherewithal to overcome adversity. This perennial theme seems like fodder for a corny made-for-cable flick, but authenticity saves “Soul Surfer” from the hackneyed “uplifting” or “inspirational” labels. In addition to being genuinely affecting, it’s wholesome without being naïve, and nothing about the handling of the shark attack scene will derail beach vacation plans.

Read the rest here.

UPDATE: Listen to Kerry Weber's interview with actor Dennis Quaid, who plays Bethany's father, Tom.

James Martin, SJ

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