Soul Surfer review

A teenage surfer loses a limb but embraces the world. Can you avoid being sucked under by the sentimental currents here?

Soul-Surfer-review

Triumph paddles after tragedy in this fact-based yarn about a teenage surfer who loses an arm and embraces the world. When we first meet Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb), she's a wholesome Hawaiian water baby with a curious habit of beaming out at the ocean with an intense, imbecilic delight, as though she's just spotted a clown swimming in it. But then, disaster. A passing shark bites off Bethany's arm and now she must toil to realise her dream of climbing back on the board. The film that follows is thin and frothy, though watch out for that final sentimental upsurge. It could drag and lift you against your will.

My problem with "Soul Surfer" is that it makes it look too simple. Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb) has a loving family of professional surfers and a big, friendly dog. She lives in walking distance of the beach. She was and is a committed churchgoer and got great support from her spiritual leaders. She was an indomitable optimist with a fierce competitive spirit.


But there had to be more to it than that. I applaud her faith and spirit. I give her full credit for her determination. I realize she is a great athlete. But I feel something is missing. There had to be dark nights of the soul. Times of grief and rage. The temptation of nihilism. The lure of despair. Can a 13-year-old girl lose an arm and keep right on smiling?

The flaw in the storytelling strategy of "Soul Surfer" is that it doesn't make Bethany easy to identify with. She's almost eerie in her optimism. Her religious faith is so unshaken, it feels taken for granted. The film feels more like an inspirational parable than a harrowing story of personal tragedy.

Even its portrait of her recovery and rehabilitation is perfunctory. There's a particularly unconvincing scene where she's fitted with a prosthetic arm and refuses to wear it. They're making remarkable progress in the field of prosthetics. But the arm that she's offered looks no more useful than the arm that she rips off her Barbie doll the same night (in one of the movie's rare moments of depression).

Although I can understand a good prosthetic might not help her balance on a surfboard, I believe one might be of use in other situations — and I don't mean cosmetically. Maybe I'm mistaken.

Because Bethany actually was in the water a month after the attack, there can be no quarrel with those scenes in the film. What I missed was more information about her medical condition. What did her doctors advise? What risks were there to the wound? Having totaled almost a year in three trips through the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, I've known people who lost limbs and I know it's very difficult and complicated. Maybe Bethany was so young and resilient, and in such a happy situation with her family and her church, that it was this easy for her. But the movie feels too simple.

Post a Comment

0 Comments