Soul Surfer Directed by: Sean McNamara Cast: AnnaSophia Robb, Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins Rating: PG Release Date: April 8, 2011
PLOT: The film follows a young surfer who loses her arm in a shark attack. Soul Surfer charts Bethany Hamilton's horrific accident and her rise to fame as she conquers the odds to fulfill her dream of being a professional surfer.
WHO'S IT FOR? People who find themselves watching a lot of Touched by an Angel re-runs may be inspired by the preachy tone. Other than that, the film is pretty much your standard teen girl power movie, but based on a true story this time around.
EXPECTATIONS: The overwhelming urge to sneak some Captain Morgan's into the theater and drunkenly jeer at the screen was overwhelming. Needless to say, my expectations for the film weren't very high and yet Soul Surfer still managed to disappoint.
ACTORS: AnnaSophia Robb as Bethany Hamilton: Robb does what she can with an inspiring true figure, but somehow manages to lose the heart and the charisma in the transfer from real life to the silver screen. Instead, Bethany comes off as a mess of contradiction with very little depth. It's hard to tell the difference between scenes where we're supposed to see Bethany persevering in the face of insurmountable odds versus scenes where she should give up and accept that life is different now. Somehow the movie manages to saddle Robb with peddling both these messages and it's just too much for one girl to handle. Score: 3
Dennis Quaid as Tom Hamilton: Tom is an unusual father. When he's not desperately clinging to the last shred of youth remaining, he's pushing his daughter to overcome the tragic event that claimed her arm. He's supportive of her endeavors and clearly wants what's best for her, but also seems to firmly believe that he knows what's best for her. In some scenes, he comes off as a bit of a bully, whereas others, he's accepting of the fact that he'll never see the life he had planned for his daughter. In most cases, this would be considered character growth, but Tom's bounce from understanding to angst-y to understanding again is just a little too much to stomach. Score: 2
Helen Hunt as Cheri Hamilton: However, just when I thought it couldn't get worse, Helen Hunt showed up onscreen. Helen Hunt, a real life mother, is guilty of completely phoning in most of her performance. Cheri seems to trip over cliche after cliche as she fumbles to make sense of what has happened to her daughter. Not only do her lines sound as if they were ripped directly from the pages of a Hallmark card, but she doesn't even seem to believe them as she sputters on and on. Score: 1
TALKING: The film begins with Robb's voice-over about how she loves the water and her mother always laughed that she was part mermaid. Now, just because her mother laughed, does that mean I'm supposed to laugh? Soul Surfer attempts to make comedy, but tends to fall flat in its efforts. But that doesn't mean that Soul Surfer is without its laughs. There were a handful of moments where the movie was going for a nice, tender moment that elicited unintentional laughter from the audience. Still, the talking reached its lowest point as the movie frequently dissolved into talk of the Lord's plan and Jesus Christ. Christians in the audience may enjoy the message of the movie, but even a good Christian can tell when something is heavy-handed and painfully obvious to the point of audible groans from audience members. Score: 2
SIGHTS: It's hard to make Hawaii look ugly, even if you tried. Then again, Soul Surfer doesn't exactly downplay the natural beauty. Some of the footage might have worked better as a National geographic special, rather than this sad excuse of a movie, but it's at least something to look at, so i can't complain. The beauty is even more appreciated when presented in stark contrast to the devastation of the tsunami in Thailand. I'm sure the grim scenes in Thailand served a narrative function as well, but mainly, they just served as a reminder of Hawaii's natural beauty. Score: 7
SOUNDS: I remember thinking "this song isn't so bad..." right before the overbearing vocals in what I'm assuming is Hawaiian? It just kinda gave me a flashback to the days of Lilo & Stitch and that "Hawaiian Rollercoaster Ride" song from it. Now imagine that obnoxious song, played throughout an entire movie. It was my own private, auditory hell. When it wasn't the vocals, there was an intense score to help guide the emotion of the scene. Thanks for the cue fellas, but I'm pretty sure I don't need the music to know that I'm supposed to feel nervous whenever Bethany is competing. Yet, even with the musical reminders, I still couldn't seem to care. Score: 3
BEST SCENE: The shark attack was pretty awesome... although I'm almost certain I liked it for the wrong reason.
ENDING: It ended sort of differently than I expected, but then they tacked on the sugar-y sweet ending that I could tell was coming from a mile away.
QUESTIONS: Helen Hunt, are you really so hard up for cash that you thought this movie was a good idea?
REWATCHABILITY: I'd play a drinking game every time they mentioned Jesus, but other than that, I'd rather set my head on fire than watch this again.
Soul Surfer is a movie that suffers from two very different problems. On the one hand, it doesn't say enough. By the end of the movie, I felt like I knew Bethany's character slightly better, but not enough to have wanted to spend a whole hour and 45 minutes with her. As for everyone else? They serve as cheap plot devices that prop up Bethany on her journey, but never really contribute much of their own except for convoluted and alarmingly moralistic messages.
On the other hand, there are times where I found Soul Surfer saying too much. For instance, if you show a clock that has 45 seconds left on it, you don't really need to cut to a character saying, "there are only 45 seconds left!" The visuals are enough, but thanks for thinking so little of my intelligence that you felt the need to vocalize it.
It'd be one story if it was only the characters, but the movie suffers from this same contradiction throughout. Should Bethany give up and accept that her life is different? Or should she keep pushing herself? Really? These are her only two options? But the worst part is that the movie seems to want so desperately to please everyone that it never really provides an answer.
In the end, Soul Surfer is a well-intentioned mess of contradictions and flowery Bible verses. It will work just fine for some, but its execution left something to be desired for me. It's a shame too. Bethany Hamilton's story is truly an inspiring one that deserved a clear vision along with a solid cast. Besides, the poor girl already had her arm bitten off, now she has to suffer this indignity? For shame, Sean McNamara, for shame. FINAL SCORE: 2/10