Back in 2003 Bethany Hamilton was all over the news after loosing her arm in a shark attack while surfing. Following this she became an inspiration to many when she returned to the water a month or so after to continue doing what she loves. Considering how much Hollywood loves bringing these “inspired by / based on true events” to screen it was more than likely that we would eventually see this one gracing the big screen as well. Eight years later it finally happened, but unfortunately the transition to this medium doesn’t work as well as hoped.
Now maybe this is unfair to say and I almost feel like a horribly insensitive person for tearing this film a new one because of the subject matter and my memories of hearing about Bethany Hamilton and seeing her on the news when it happened, but the film is just so poorly done that it becomes comedically painful to watch. Sure it is nicely shot, fully capturing the beauty of Hawaii and will have you leaving the theater dying for a glass of water after staring at that clear blue water, but it is what was shot that doesn’t quite work. Looking back on the film it just seems as if they were attempting to get in every little aspect of her life during these months or struggle, but unfortunately they weren’t able to transition these moments into a film that could flow smoothly from one scene to the next instead of remaining as choppy as it is, weakening the significance of what she went through.
In other words most moments of this film feel completely forced, the biggest example of this being the reliance of faith in the film and dialog. I understand that religion can be a powerful thing and probably helped Bethany get through this period of time, but the film gets so preachy that it ostracizes, or at least nauseates, the non-church-going percentage of the audience. Combine this with Carrie Underwood’s presence (who should probably stick to singing) and there is no chance you are not going to be singing “Jesus Take the Wheel” for weeks to come, possibly mashed up with the Jaws theme.
With the choppiness of the scenes the dialog also suffers heavily as it becomes a overly-dramatic greatest hits mash up of issues as opposed to naturally flowing through conversation topics, going a little something like this:
Bethany: This prosthetic is stupid.
Mom: Give it a chance.
Bethany: How will I surf with it?
Mom: You can surf without it.
Bethany: Boys will never like me without an arm.
Mom: Yes they will.
Bethany: Why did God do this to me? What’s his plan for me?
Mom: (Some typical response that I missed because at this point I was fantasizing about the food my tummy was growling for as I branched out from the classic eye roll and heavily dramatic groan)
Sure the actors (other than Underwood) give their performances everything they have, and I have nothing bad to say about AnnaSophia Robb as Bethany, but poor dialog is just something that cannot be overcome, no matter the acting skill.
Unfortunately for Soul Surfer the true-life inspirational story of Bethany Hamilton is not enough to keep this movie afloat as an entertaining film because of how poorly the cinematic elements are carried out. Yes it looks pretty, and there are brief moments when everything seems to come together (such as the minutes following the shark attack), but if we are to believe that her brother really shot as much footage of her as he is shown doing in this movie, then sticking to the documentary route would have been a better choice for this story (and also already exists). In the future, as far as I am concerned, I will stick to Blue Crush if I want to watch a surfing film and 127 Hours for an “inspired by true events” film in which someone loses an arm.
Final Grade: D+