I am very, very, very excited about this movie. It has been a while since I really lost myself in a movie and forgot that a) I was watching a movie b) I was supposed to be reviewing a movie c) I don’t usually lose myself in movies. “Soul Surfer” is the true story of Bethany Hamilton, the 13-year-old Christian surfer girl in Hawaii who had her arm chomped off by a shark. And she got right back out there and kept surfing: her love for Christ and surfing stronger than ever.
The story of how “Soul Surfer” was made is almost as exciting as the story of Bethany and her amazing family. At the screening I attended, a Christian VP of marketing for Provident Films (a division of Sony) told us that some Christians convinced Sony to tell the real story of Bethany (which is inseparable from her faith in Jesus), and to do a big budget film: $20M. Sony’s money was well spent. “Soul Surfer” looks and feels big budget, and is just a fabulously successful film all around. The sweeping aerial, under-water, over-water, all-water cinematography of Hawaii and surfing is MESMERIZING and BREATHTAKING. Hawaii’s tourism industry and the hang-ten sport should shoot up like a Blue Whale blowhole after this film hits 2,000 screens April 8.
Director Sean McNamara did a swell job here. If I knew how to say “swell” in Pidgin English, I would. Da kine. “Soul Surfer” is a family drama; a sports movie (all-girl surfing!); a story of faith, hope and love; and, well, almost a nature action film. I’ve never really seen anything quite like it. I liked the movie more and more and more as I watched. The crisis sequence (you get so wrapped up in the story and the gorgeous scenery you forget what’s coming) is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Not gory, not overdone, but pulls no punches at the same time. The pacing, emotions and reactions are perfect.
Helen Hunt—looking tanned and beautiful--plays Bethany’s mom. Hunt has never particularly been one of my favorite actresses, but this role fits her like a glove (perhaps because in real life she surfs!). She’s a joy to watch. Dennis Quaid plays Bethany’s Dad. Kevin Sorbo is Bethany’s best friend’s Dad, Carrie Underwood plays her youth minister, and Bethany is played by the truly luminous AnnaSophia Robb. Bethany, her parents and her two brothers all surf, so all the actors had to learn to at least stand up on a surf board, but from there on out, professional surfers do the fancy stuff, including the real Bethany! The family dynamic is realistic and FUNCTIONAL. A functional family on the big screen! Take a picture! Oh wait—it is a picture! (Sorry—couldn’t resist being a tad sarcastic.) Parents talk to teens like they are human beings. Teens talk to parents like they actually love them, and might even like them. Family members help and care for each other. Christianity is just a taken-for-granted, matter-of-fact factor in the life of the Hamiltons (as it is for millions of non-surfing families). It is not portrayed fakey-like, and “We are Christians, Praise Jesus!” does not pop up every five minutes, although as a Jesus freak myself, I wouldn’t have minded that.
This is not a movie that you will need to go to the theater to “support,” because it’s a “good, Christian film and we hope they make more like this.” You will love this film. It is the best film of 2011. You will not be ashamed to take your friends, Christian or non-Christian. It is a very cool film. Your friends may not even be cool enough to see this film. But go and “support” it any way, especially on opening weekend--April 8--because that’s what counts when Hollywood is crunching numbers.
Just when you think “Soul Surfer” might be going to get a little hokey…it doesn’t. Best. Epilogue. Ever. Tons of footage of the real Bethany through the years and today. (You’ll also glimpse how faithful the movie was to the real events of her life.) I hope there’s a “making of” documentary on the DVD/Blu-ray.
--Is this a chick flick? If you consider a Something-For-Everyone film that deals with life’s Big Mysteries and Questions and entertains with Non-Stop, Mind-Blowing Photography and Action and features some of the World’s Coolest Surfer Grrrl Chicks a chick flick, then, yes.
--Evidently, the actors were FREEZING and turning blue, but had to look like it was balmy.
--THEOLOGY OF THE BODY? There is, naturally, a preponderance of teens in bikinis—true to Hawaiian surf-and-turf-wear--and although the girls talk about wanting to look good on the waves (as well as the fact that they have company/product sponsorships), they are first of all athletes sold out to their sport, and not into flaunting their 0% body-fat buff bods. I would welcome a guy’s take on this who has seen the movie. Otherwise, a glorious celebration of the human body and the grace it is capable of and how good it can look when you exercise a lot and don't eat lots of transfats. Also, and more obviously (even though BJP2G says that his TOB doesn't take up the experience of bodily suffering and death), Bethany's bravely accepting the challenge of what happened to her body could be considered some "theology of the body."
--How did they get rid of the actress’ arm? Wrapped it in green screen stuff.
--Great conversation between parents about whether it’s better for her to continue surfing or not. Great. --Magnificent, creative twist to “love your enemies.”
--This movie shows a kind of lack of sense of horror on the part of Bethany. It reminded me of what Antoine de St.-Exupery (author of “The Little Prince”) said in his book “Wind, Sand and Stars” when it seemed his plane was crashing. How there was no horror to it at all. He was very calm and just looked death in the face.
--If you search for “Soul Surfer” on YouTube, you’ll find tons of stuff on Bethany. She works with amputees, also: “Friends of Bethany.” But DON'T watch those other lame trailers!
--OK—you know how the story ends. Sort of. Like you know how “Secretariat” ends. But you'll WANT to see “Soul Surfer.”
--“BEST MOVIE OF 2011!”
--“NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, EAT YOUR HEART OUT!”
--“YOU TOO, ESPN! (UNLESS, OF COURSE, YOU HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE MOVIE!)”
--“HELEN HUNT IS A GNARLY SURF-MOM!”
--“A FUNCTIONAL FAMILY!”
--“NO EASY ‘GOD’ ANSWERS!”
--“TIMMY, BETHANY’S BROTHER, REALLY DOES EAT LOTS OF SPAM!”
--“HEARTFELT, GENUINE EMOTIONS!”