As I was writing up my review of Shark Night 3D, I found myself thinking about Soul Surfer, another film that came out earlier this year and also featured a character losing an arm to a shark. Oddly enough, both Shark Night and Soul Surfer feature supporting performances from former American Idol contestants. (Carrie Underwood has a small supporting role in Soul Surfer.) Beyond that, however, the two films couldn’t be any more different.
Soul Surfer is based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton, a surfer who, back in 2003, lost her arm to a shark. I can still remember when this happened because, despite the fact that I live in one of the most land-locked parts of the country, it really, really freaked me out. I have a morbid fear of somehow losing a limb whether by shark attack, car accident, or Jigsaw Killer. (I guess, in my case, car accident would be the most likely possibility.) I couldn’t help but look at the endless footage of a seemingly cheerful Hamilton being interviewed without wondering how I would react if the same thing happened to me. Would I be able to stay as positive as Hamilton? I hope I could but, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t.
That’s one reason why I avoided seeing Soul Surfer when it was first released to theaters and instead only saw it once it showed up On Demand and I was looking for a movie to watch before bedtime. Once I actually saw it, I was surprised to discover that Soul Surfer is an effective (if predictable) film that is occasionally even touching.
The film opens with some truly beautiful scenes set in Hawaii and rather quickly establishes Bethany Hamilton (played here by AnnaSophia Robb) as a normal teenage girl who just happens to be a very talented surfer. Hamilton loses her arm about thirty minutes in and the rest of the film is devoted to her struggle to come to terms with both the loss of her arm and her newfound fame. The film ends with Hamilton’s triumphant return to competetive surfing and, in its undeniably sincere and old-fashioned way, it makes for an undeniably touching moment. Robb is likable as Hamilton though the film’s true heart and soul is provided by Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt. They play Hamilton’s parents and both of them prove they are capable of making even the most mawkish of lines effective.
Soul Surfer was popular with audiences but got slammed by critics who complained that the film was 1) predictable and 2) far too manipulative. I would say that these critics are missing the point and their criticism has more to do with their own need to show off their cynical credentials than anything they may have actually seen on-screen.
Yes, Soul Surfer is emotionally manipulative and yes, the film is predictable but so what?
The important thing is that the film works.
That’s a lot more than you can say for the much more cynical Shark Night 3D.