Soul Surfer
dir Sean McNamara
scr Sean McNamara, Deborah Schwartz, Douglas Schwartz, Michael Berk
prd David Brookwell, Dutch Hofstetter, Sean McNamara, Douglas Schwartz, David Zelon
with AnnaSophia Robb, Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, Lorraine Nicholson, Kevin Sorbo, Ross Thomas, Chris Brochu, Sonya Balmores Chung, Jeremy Sumpter, Carrie Underwood, Craig T Nelson, Branscombe Richmond
release US 8.Apr.11, UK 23.Sep.11
11/US TriStar 1h46
Soul Surfer
The family that surfs together... Quaid, Robb and Hunt

sorbo underwood nelson
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Soul Surfer Based on a true story, this film features several genuinely rousing moments amid the pushy sermonising and heart-warming sentiment. In the end, the platitudes take over completely, but the inspirational story is still worth telling.

In Kauai, surf champ Bethany (Robb) lives an idyllic beach life with her religious, surfing parents (Quaid and Hunt), brothers (Thomas and Brochu) and best pal Alana (Nicholson). Her biggest crisis is whether to practice for the regional competition or go on a church trip to Mexico. Then a shark attack changes all of that, leaving her with one arm and shattered dreams. Trying to get back on the board is more difficult than she expects, but she finds motivation and a sense of purpose on a relief mission to tsunami-struck Thailand.

Spectacular Hawaiian scenery and gorgeous surf cinematography help make up for the one-dimensional TV-style morality. The shark-bite sequence feels rushed and simplistic, but the emotional intensity still resonates thanks to naturalistic performances that are established in the offhanded, lively pre-attack section. So when things turn more melodramatic and worthy, we're willing to go with it. And it's nice to see a film that actually has the nerve to break the surface and grapple with spiritual issues.

Robb is terrific as the steely young woman who needs to relearn everything; her relaxed performance actually undermines the film's sentimentality and helps us identify with Bethany. And she gets fine support from Quaid and Hunt as her perhaps too-cool parents, plus all of the hot, likeable surfer dudes and chicks around her. The extended cameo from Underwood (as Bethany's church group leader) is less realistic.

At least the script acknowledges that the "get a new perspective on life" sermonising is a difficult pill to swallow. On the other hand, as the film's structure builds toward a nail-biting competition with Bethany's arch-rival (Chung), we worry about the potential for soaring violins. And indeed, her innate "wave-sense" is almost as cringe-inducing as when she rips an arm off her Barbie doll. Fortunately, the true events guarantee an honest outcome.

cert pg themes, some grisliness 6.Sep.11

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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall