Soul Surfer follows in the Hollywood footsteps of movies such as The Blind Side, a true story based drama with a central Christian theme.
Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) is your regular teenager in almost every way, except that her blood is “salty water” – she lives to surf. Surfing is who she is and it is how she spends most of her time, in her Hawaiian hometown. However, fate has it that a shark attack causes Bethany to lose her left arm. If the attack had been two inches higher, Bethany would have lost her life as well. She lost 60% of her blood before she was rushed to the hospital where she struggles for her life and barely grasps to it.
It is then that Bethany’s struggle towards normality begins. How do you lead a surfing-based life with only one arm? How do you do your basic home chores and help around in the most basic tasks with one limb less?
With the help of her Youth Pastor Sarah Hill (Carrie Underwood) and her parents (Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid), Bethany regains her footing, learning the most valuable lesson of her life: with love and faith, you gain a new perspective on life, one that allows you to see the workings of God even in tragedies and allows you to come out triumphant.
I am by no means a sappy Christian. I struggle with my faith on daily basis. But Soul Surfer is one of those rare movies that demand nothing of you except to sit with an open mind and watch. It doesn’t preach. It doesn’t try to serve arguments about the existence of God, it simply shows you how Bethany found God in her life, as she stood on the precipice of a tragedy, the day before the rest of her life.
AnnaSophia Rob delivers a great performance as young Bethany. Her performance is highly nuanced, showcasing both aspects of her character’s character meticulously: the carefree teenagers and the tragedy-struck woman. She showcases Bethany’s struggle in a highly natural way and doesn’t shy away from asking those most crucial question in situations like this: why me?
Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt deliver performances that are representative of their acting caliber. They are the parents horrified by the troubles of their little girl, as they simultaneously put up this invincible facade to get her through her ordeal. But it’s Bethany at times who has to tell her dad not to cry.
Carrie Underwood holds her own in her movie debut as the youth pastor Sarah Hill. She is in about five scenes where she serves as guidance for Bethany and she does her job as a supportive character with flying colors. I had no idea what to expect from Carrie because I have never seen her take on a serious acting role of this magnitude before (although she has shown some acting chops in her Just a Dream and Temporary Home videos as well as a comedic side in a guest role on How I Met Your Mother) but I was pleasantly surprised. She held her own, did not over-act or under-act and gave the character the amount of emotion it deserved. And no, I’m not being biased.
All in all, Soul Surfer is one of those feel-good movies that actually make you feel ecstatic by their end. And even the story could have been this saccharine tale with the happy ending resolution, it doesn’t feel like this in this movie, mostly because you know this is not fiction – someone actually went through all of this. When Bethany is asked, towards the end of the movie, if she could go back and not go surfing on the day she got attacked, her reply was: “I wouldn’t change what happened to me because then I wouldn’t have this chance, in front of all of you, this chance to embrace more people than I ever could have with two arms.”
And when the end credits roll with real life footage of the real Bethany Hamilton, you remain in your seat, transfixed by this young woman who, against all odds, beat her tragedy to become one of the world’s most important surfers today.