Friday, April 15, 2011

Soul Surfer - 2 stars

Soul Surfer is about Bethany Hamilton, the 13 year old Hawaiian surfer whose arm was bitten off by a shark. Specifically, the movie is about how her faith and her family help her to overcome losing her arm and become a champion surfer.

This is one of those movies where a documentary would have been so much better. This is an inspirational story, but the movie handles it so badly. It is so earnest and sentimental that I felt like I was watching an after school special or something. The filmmakers are trying so hard to appeal to a Christian audience that they don't take any risks, and the movie is rather boring.

The movie starts out introducing us to Bethany, her family, and her friends. They live a life of privilege, spending their days surfing and their nights either in their nice Hawaiian home, or at church youth group meetings. We never get an explanation as to why her parents don't have to work. I think her parents are professional surfers, but we never see what that involves. How much money does a professional surfer make anyway?

When the attack comes, it is a huge letdown. She is on a surfboard, and the camera is below the water, giving us the shark's POV. This lasts for a few seconds, then before any tension is developed, the shark pops out of the water, bites off her arm, and disappears. The whole thing lasts about 5 seconds. Now I wasn't going in expecting Jaws, but at the same time, the shark attack should be a big moment in the movie.

They rush her to the hospital, and at first she seems to be in good spirits. She doesn't let having only one arm get her down too much. I don't know if she was this cheerful in real life, but it seems a bit phony. Getting used to having one arm would be a huge adjustment, and I would expect her to be much more upset and depressed. If she was this resilient in real life, good for her.

Quickly she decides to get back in the water (at no time does anyone worry about more shark attacks - Larry Vaughn must be the mayor), but she soon gets discouraged and quits. This starts the sequence in the movie where she feels bad for herself and gets depressed. But quickly she snaps out of it, gets back on the board, and starts to win competitions.

The two best parts of the movie are near the end. The first is when she goes with her church group to Thailand after the tsunami. Here she realizes how lucky she is to have a nice home, clean water, food, money, all that stuff. The second is during the credits when they show actual footage of the real Bethany. This reminded me how much I would rather watch a documentary about her.

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