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Soul Surfer

Soul Surfer movie (2011)

Bethany Hamilton. Her story, Soul Surfer, opens in theatres April 8 2011.

Soul Surfer’s story might have been better served by a documentary

– by Julia Brown

Normally I am too much of a cynic to watch, much less enjoy, a movie like Sean McNamara’s Soul Surfer. The fact the movie is “based on an inspiring true story” would usually be enough to cause a knee-jerk, film-snob reaction within my jaded little heart. However, if you can manage to put aside any cynicism you might feel towards movies of this ilk, you might actually feel a little bit… inspired.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things amiss with this film. While the story the movie is based on is inherently compelling – up-and-coming 13 year old surfer Bethany Hamilton (played by AnnaSophia Robb) is attacked by a tiger shark, loses her left arm in the process, and then proceeds to not only survive but thrive – the writers/ producers still found it necessary to add an unnecessary layer of cheese.

AnnaSophia Robb

AnnaSophia Robb on the set of Soul Surfer

Robb does a good job with the role, despite being handicapped (no pun intended) by some terrible lines and some questionable special effects. Playing a real, living person is always challenging for any actor, and Robb does a great job of capturing Bethany’s genuinely courageous attitude. However, Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt, who play Bethany’s parents in the film, seem to be floundering a bit in their roles; neither one of them seems overly-comfy with the Christian angle of this film. I might just be projecting a bit there, but in the post-shark-chomping scene when Hunt looks to the heavens and pleads to God to spare her daughter, her distress seems real, but her faith does not.

Most of the other scenes in the film come across as similarly trite and forced. When Bethany returns to surfing competition after the attack, much screen time is devoted to a fictionalized rivalry with a cartoonishly-evil competitor. It’s as if the writers thought the drama inherent in the story of a young girl being viciously attacked by a 14-foot shark, and somehow surviving that attack despite losing a major part of her anatomy, just wasn’t quite enough pathos.

Scene from Soul Surfer movie (2011).

Scene from Shark Attack!, er, Soul Surfer.

Given the film’s excessive level of cheesiness, Bethany Hamilton and her family might have been better-served by a documentary-style approach versus a fictionalized treatment of their experiences. Indeed, the home movies that play during the end credits are the most interesting part of Soul Surfer.

Still, even bad writing, a heavy dose of Hollywood schmaltz and an off-putting-to-many religious subtext can’t fully undermine how incredible Bethany’s story really is. This girl has guts. The actual attack scene is done very well – you see just enough to understand how amazing it is that she survived. It is also amazing how quick-thinking her rescuers were; Bethany was surfing that day with her best friend’s family, and their level-headed response to the incident surely saved her life. All of these people, who are real people who really did these things, deserve our admiration. So it’s too bad that the film-makers didn’t do a better job with Bethany’s story.

Julia Brown

About Julia Brown

Julia Brown is a Vancouver native who enjoys reading, writing, long walks on the beach, and attending film screenings on behalf of Guttersniped News at 10 a.m. on weekdays. Her measurements are 36-24ish-36, and yes, she does own a cat. She spent most of her youth hiding out in academia, writing dozens of English papers about the only two topics that really matter: Sex and Death. Following that, she launched her career as a a cubicle-dweller, where she honed her office supply ordering skills to a fine point (double-fine, to those in the know). Most recently, Julia has been enjoying her EI benefits while laying on the couch and watching daytime TV. All of this obviously uniquely qualifies her to be a movie reviewer. If you want to get on her good side, be sure to leave some witty comments in the Comments section.
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One response to “Soul Surfer

  1. 4 years ago  

    This movie was not cheesy and it was a really good movie and she really is religious and the film writers did a good job writing the movie it is too bad you did not get that perspective.It is also too bad you have nothing nice to say about the story so you shouldnt have wrote this summary to express the way you feel about the movie because you had nothing to say about it that was nice and that is too bad because she is a really nice person!!!!!!!!!

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