2002, there was a film based around the little-explored world of women’s
competitive surfing called Blue Crush. Though it didn’t make huge waves
at the box office, the film was praised for the capturing the beauty of
its Hawaiian locations and the excitement given to its surfing scenes.
In Soul Surfer, we are lucky to once again have the waters of Hawaii as
our backdrop for a tale about another female surfer whose story is all
too real and in every way amazing.
ocean is a part of Bethany Hamilton’s life as much as food or
breathing. The Hawaiian girl is as comfortable in the water as on dry
land, so taking part in the official state sport is no big surprise.
Bethany is a very good surfer, so much so she is ready to compete for
the national Championships. Supported by her loving family and friends,
every spare minute of sunlight (- and a little forbidden moonlight)
is spent on her board training for the championship, when the
unthinkable occurs. In a lightning second, Bethany’s life changes
forever as a very harsh reminder that the ocean is as wild and
unpredictable as any uncharted, ever-changing world and is home to
deadly creatures that will eat you. Bethany survives a shark attack by
the merest thread, but it appears her dream of a surfing championship is
gone forever. It is the Bethany’s incredible recovery and comeback to
the surfing world that is the basis for Soul Surfer.
very hard to make Hawaii look bad on film and Soul Surfer further proves
that; the beautiful ocean vistas and tropical surroundings easily lull
the viewer into the tranquility of the island, which makes the startling
moment when we realise that those glorious waters aren’t a carefree
playground all the more impactful. Knowing Hamilton’s story beforehand
does keep the audience fairly tensed waiting for the big moment, but
the surf training scenes are so wonderfully photographed and there is
such an ease in the characters’ interactions that while the attack is
tastefully handled, it is nonetheless effectively quick and shocking.
The cinematography of Soul Surfer also excels in giving viewers a great
insight into the actual physicality of surfing; the real strength,
agility, balance and coordination one must employ to be a championship
surfer. There’s far more to the sport than merely staying upright on a
board in the water, which makes Bethany’s decision to return to the
waves seem that much more impossible. Once she has committed and her
supporters find a way to compensate for the loss of her arm, the triumph
isn’t whether or not Bethany will win the championship, but the fact
that she’s out on the water at all. We’re given a unique insight to the
Hamilton family; they are a close-knit, happy bunch that center their
lives around their Christian beliefs, attending church together weekly.
When Bethany is at her lowest after the attack and it seems her dream
has escaped her, it is a missionary trip to Thailand after a devastating
tsunami that gives her a new perspective and gets her back into the
ocean once more. Soul Surfer is surprising in its inclusion of Bethany’s
Christian beliefs, as anything faith-based seems to send Hollywood
screaming for the hills, but it was a necessary and refreshing component
to her story. Because of her faith, Bethany’s deepest moments of
anguish stem not just from the shark attack but from her doubt and
despair that God has abandoned her. Why would a Lord she’s worshipped
faithfully let this happen? Her motivation to help others as part of
the mission brings Bethany back around to where she can overcome her
fears and hopelessness.
AnnaSophia Robb plays Bethany with a sweetness and clear-eyed
determination that never feels false or contrived, as evidenced best
when Bethany is often the strongest person in the room when it comes to
coping with her amputation. Dennis Quaid is not only Bethany’s loving
dad, but her biggest fan and his pride in her shows itself in often
comic ways. Helen Hunt is Bethany’s supportive but concerned mother,
serving as a solid ground under her wounded child’s feet. It’s a
uncommon functional family portrait, but a welcome one. There is a bit
of forgivable schmaltz especially toward the end of the film that makes
it read like a Afterschool Special, but the story is so winning and
audiences will be so on Bethany’s side, it won’t take away much. But
while we’re addressing the film’s minuses, I can’t write this review
without noting that in her film debut as the youth leader of Bethany’s
church, singer Carrie Underwood sure wears an awful lot of very
professionally-applied makeup for a missionary. She’s one set of false
eyelashes away from Tammy Faye Bakker. Even so, those cosmetological
considerations didn’t decrease my enjoyment of the movie.
Surfer is a rare film these days, truly heartwarming and inspirational.
The performances are wonderful and true and the movie itself is exciting
and lovely to look at. It's a perfect family film.
Lady Miz Diva
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