Sunday, April 10, 2011

Soul Surfer * * * *

Starring AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, Lorraine Nicholson, Carrie Underwood, Kevin Sorbo

Rated PG (for an intense accident sequence and some thematic material)

Written by Sean McNamara, Debra Schwartz (based on the book "Soul Surfer" by Bethany Hamilton, Sheryl Berk, and Rick Bundschuh)

Directed by Sean McNamara
* * * *
"Surfer Soul"

Picture this: You live in Hawaii with your hippie-cool surfer family.  At 13, you're already a surfing champion in your own right, on the way to becoming a professional surfer.  Then, on Halloween morning, as you lay on your surfboard, your hand dangling in the cool waters, a shark attacks...and your arm is gone.  What would you do?  This is Bethany Hamilton's story in "Soul Surfer."  Here's the real shocker: she was back on her board a month later.

Bethany's story is terrifying and moving all in one fell swoop.  Instead of allowing this awful event to take hold of her life, she was determined to surf again as soon as possible, despite losing her left arm. 

AnnaSophia Robb plays Bethany and worked side-by-side with her for three weeks, learning how to surf and asking her all she could to better understand Bethany and how she copes every day without her arm.  Lorraine Nicholson (Jack Nicholson's daughter) plays Alana Blanchard, Bethany's childhood best friend, who is also a professional surfer today.

Helen Hunt is picture-perfect as Bethany's laid-back surfer mom: beautiful, blonde, lithe and looking better than ever.  Dennis Quaid is her dad, also a passionate surfer, who in the film coaches Bethany to regain her strength and balance on her board.  Both Hunt and Quaid slip easily into their roles, delivering their lines with smooth precision.  Carrie Underwood plays Sarah Hill, Bethany's religion group leader, sugary sweet, overacting at times, but believable in the part of the down-to-earth missionary leader.  

One of the most moving parts of the film is when Bethany travels to Thailand to provide relief to natives after a tsunami hits.  She makes a connection with a little boy whose family is missing.  The scene is filled with such sweet innocence.  Bethany comes to grips with her own suffering while in the midst of people who have lost their families, homes and entire villages.

To say this is the feel-good, family-friendly movie of the year doesn't quite justify "Soul Surfer."  It's target audience may be young girls and the faith-based community, but it's really a story for everyone, young and old, because we all suffer at times, especially in a declining economy, with natural disasters and wars threatening the world from all corners.  Bethany Hamilton is so special because she has recognized and grabbed hold of her greater purpose.  She is able to reach out to young people everywhere with her story.  It is people like her that help us to believe and to have faith; that with love and unfailing dedication, anything is possible.

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