We’ve all heard those familiar inspiring words, “grab life by the horns” or “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” well SOUL SURFER extends a new one, “when life gives you shark teeth, hope to hell Kevin Sorbo is there to save you.” In the film AnnaSophia Robb plays the real life inspiration, Bethany Hamilton, who encountered a real life JAWS moment and turned it into a triumphant life changing experience. The story itself is very heartwarming and touching even if the movie kind of fails to make that story as engaging and memorable as it should be.
Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) is a very skilled surfer who encounters a life altering encounter when a shark attacks her and bites off her left arm. Determined to not let the attack scare her from her passion she gets right back up on the board but encounters some difficulty along the way. With a little guidance from her parents (Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid) and other support systems she gains a new perspective on her life and decides to be a bigger inspiration to people than she ever realized she could be with two arms.
I think an alternate title for SOUL SURFER could have been QUIVERING LIPS since I counted at least four or more lingering close ups of the characters as they’re about to cry and their lips quivering. Joking aside, the subject matter of the film is very real and emotional and I’d hate to leave the impression that I didn’t take the film seriously. I take what I can out of inspirational films; I don’t flock to the theater to see them and I don’t gush over them after they’re over. That said I respect the stories that they tell and I believe in their right to be made and be seen. You could do worse than a film like SOUL SURFER, but make no mistake, there are flaws.
Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid are both fine in the film and at times I even thought AnnaSophia Robb was quite tolerable, but so much of the supporting cast were just not up to par. I don’t know who watched this movie and thought to themselves, Carrie Underwood, now THAT’S a believable actress. Underwood is bad; cringe worthy at best. I haven’t enjoyed a Kevin Sorbo performance ever as far as I can remember and I don’t really like him here, although he was not the worst SOUL SURFER had to offer.
The film looks quite beautiful though; lots of very striking scenery and well staged shots of waves and surfing action. Aside from an extremely jarring and awkward split second shark attack I’d have to say visually I can’t complain too much. That shark attack though; if you look back to a moment involving a shark and Samuel L. Jackson in DEEP BLUE SEA, that’s how I’d compare the shark attack scene in SOUL SURFER.
I don’t know anything about surfing so the realism of how it’s portrayed will not be discussed, but to say the events of the film are predictable is an understatement. Divorced from the fact that this is based on a true story (one I’d not been aware of or read up on) I had no real surprise to wrap myself into, which is something I crave from a movie experience. I can appreciate SOUL SURFER for introducing me to a very inspiring story and being entertaining even without the element of surprise. Inspirational films based on true stories do not gain acclaim for making you leave the theater repeating “woe is me” in the mirror while painting every feature with black makeup, they do it by making you feel something genuine and human. In that regard I can say SOUL SURFER somewhat succeeds. The story and the filmmaking float while the acting tries desperately to sink the boat.
If you dig inspirational movies based on the exploits of real people then I think SOUL SURFER will be just what you’re looking for. The acting is on par with what you’d see in your run of the mill mid day soap opera, but the story is touching and entertaining enough to leave feeling mostly satisfied. The message might be semi heavy handed and preachy at times, but it’s a message that everyone can get a hold of and take something from it. Also, if the subject of God or religion scares you in any way shape or form, stay far away. One last note, if you want a pop country hit about what to do if your boyfriend cheats, call Carrie Underwood, do not do this if you need a believable mentor character in the middle of your serious and dramatic movie, that is all.