Soul Surfer is a movie based on the inspiring true story of Bethany Hamilton, a young surfer from Hawaii who was attacked by a shark when she was thirteen years old (this happened around 2003-2004, for those of you who do not remember). Bethany was an avid surfer, training to become pro, when suddenly it seemed that everything had been ripped away from her. However, with a loving, supportive family and community, faith, and extreme determination, Bethany took to the water again, and in no time she was back on those waves!
The movie does a great job of portraying the story I briefly outlined above. It starts off with home videos of the real Bethany Hamilton playing around and surfing. Then it does a lovely transition to the thirteen year old Bethany, played by AnnaSophia Robb, in her first lead role, as she comes up out of the water. The audience is able to form a bond with Bethany and her family for the first twenty or thirty minutes (I am estimating here, so nobody sue me). The bond only helps to ensure that the shark attack really hits home. This movie is not a shark movie, nor is it really a surfing movie (although surfing does play a major part). It is a movie about a girl and her family (Parents are played by the wonderful Academy Award winning Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid), and how they adjust after the attack.
And adjust they do. At first, the family is at a loss. They have no idea how they will cope. As Cheri, Bethany’s mom, says in the movie to her husband Tom (paraphrasing here), “You know when we brought Noah home from the hospital? He was our first baby and we had no clue what to do. This is like that.” They all struggle with Bethany’s handicap, and when she tells them that Doctor Davis, played by Craig T. Nelson, said she could get back into the water after her stitches came out, they were really concerned. What if she could never surf again? Yes, it had crossed their minds, but it never seemed like a reality. Surfing was their life.
Later, Bethany is back on a surf board, ready to hit the waves! Because this is a movie, after a few tumbles, she is able to ride a wave! Then she starts training for the regional competition, which she qualified for before the accident. Soul Surfer is a touching tale of Bethany’s journey to recovery, and eventual return to the water.
In order to not spoil the movie completely, I shall be moving on with the story, the meaning behind the film. As Bethany is training, she is also learning about herself. After the attack, she goes to see her youth leader, Sarah Hill, played by Carrie Underwood in her film debut (a little more on that later). She brings up a lesson that Sarah had taught the kids previously (we see this lesson before, so it is not out of left field – I do not know a surfing term for that) about perspective. She asks, as anyone would, why this had to happen to her. What was the reason? Sarah, of course, could not provide her an answer. But it gets Bethany, and the audience, thinking. Why did this have to happen to her? Bethany ends up going on a mission trip to Thailand to help with the tsunami relief (which is ironically relevant to today and the tsunami that hit Japan), and she teaches some of the children to surf, realizing that she did not lose everything and that she actually gained something from the accident. Her perspective changed.
Overall the movie was good. I rated it a 9 out of 10 on the cards we received at the pre-screening to fill out. Would I see it again? Absolutely! It was really enjoyable. The story was motivational, inspirational, and all around touching (I had tears in my eyes, and I am not afraid to say that because I am a girl)! The movie was also good because it was a Christian film, yet it did not try to force that idea onto the viewer. Bethany Hamilton is not shy about her faith. Christianity can be done tastefully in films (like The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), or it can be done very badly (like The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which was still a good film). Soul Surfer was done tastefully. It utilized Christianity in the best way possible. It was part of the plot, fitting in seamlessly. It is what helped Bethany get through her accident, and it gave her the determination to keep doing what she loved (for those of you not keeping up, she loved to surf). The movie was also great in the fact that it had a great cast of stars, such as Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, Carrie Underwood, Craig T, Nelson, Lorraine Nicholson (daughter of Jack), and the lead AnnaSophia Robb, among others, yet the focus was NOT on who was in the movie. It was on Bethany Hamilton and her story, the struggle that she and her family faced, not only with coping with the injury, the press, and life but also her trying to surf again. In Bethany’s words: “I don’t need easy, I just need possible.” That is how she approached the challenge she was given, and she succeeded!
While the movie was reminiscent of the Blindside, I feel that it relates more to the teenage crowd. Also, this was a film about people overcoming a tragedy, whereas the Blindside was about a boy overcoming adversity and cultural prejudices.
Okay, now onto cast performances. Not knowing anything about Bethany Hamilton or her story, I have to say that AnnaSophia did a splendid job! Her emotional reactions to the events occurring around her were spot on! The actual shark attack was a little off in my opinion, but everything before and after that was done extremely well! Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid were wonderful as Bethany’s parents. They portrayed their roles perfectly. They were parents afraid for their daughter, who had just recovered from a shark attack, but they also supported her in her decision to surf. Lorraine Nicholson was good as Bethany’s best friend, and Craig T. Nelson was a great doctor.
Of course, the question has to be asked: HOW DID CARRIE UNDERWOOD DO IN HER FIRST MOVIE ROLE EVER?
Carrie Underwood played Bethany’s youth leader, and as such she was there to help Bethany through whatever problems she was going through (in this movie, it is the whole “Her left arm was chopped off by a shark.” thing). The first time we see her, she is up on stage, singing in the church choir (this is the only time she sings in the entire movie, so pay close attention). Then we see her giving the aforementioned lesson on perspective. At the end of that scene, we see her interact with Bethany (I may be getting my events mixed up). And, I must say, she was pretty cold, which I found odd since they were supposed to be really close. Bethany says she cannot go on the mission trip to Mexico because she has to train for the regional competition, and Sarah says that she is sorry and she was hoping Bethany could come. However, I got the impression that she did not mean it, because as soon as she said that she reached down to grab the box Bethany brought (donated goods for the trip to Mexico) and left. Whoa. Then we see her at the Thanksgiving feast, and when Bethany (**spoilers but not really because it will take two seconds on Google to find this**) tells Sarah that she will in fact be competing at regionals (this is after her accident, mind you), Carrie reacts with the same excitement she showed on her How I Met Your Mother episode when Ted showed her his teacup pig. The last time we really see Sarah doing anything (other than at the end when she is watching Bethany on TV) is on the trip to Thailand, and even then it is not much. Carrie seemed to do better in the parts where she really did not have to interact with anybody to the point that she had to have a connection with them. The one scene in which I thought she did well was when Bethany came to see Sarah to talk about the accident and ask why God had let it happen. To summarize, my angry Carrie fans, her acting was not amazing. I definitely do not see an Oscar for best supporting actress (although AnnaSophia Robb might get a nomination if the film gets enough buzz) in her future, however I do not see a Razzie either. I see potential there though, and that is always good. Do not get me wrong. It was NOT a bad performance. However, it was not the best acting in the world. Watching Carrie Underwood on the big screen reminded me a lot of the twenty-one year old who nervously auditioned for American Idol when it was in its fourth season, the one who had never flown on an airplane before. Do you remember that? She had talent. That much was obvious, but the judges did tell her to work on her stage presence. A relatively short time later (5 or 6 years), she has won numerous awards, including the Academy Country Music Entertainer of the Year award TWICE, and headlined two successful tours. I watched her evolve from the young woman who called Simon Cowell “scary” right before she auditioned to the woman who flawlessly puts on a two hour show. In fact, on the Play On tour, she used props (a “flying truck”) and she still managed to captivate the audience with her amazing vocals and her witty chatter. She made the transformation into an excellent performer, and I hope to be able to see her do the same thing as an actress.
I am not trying to be mean. I love Carrie Underwood. I just want her to know (because she totally reads my blog and will take this message to heart) that she still has room to make improvements. I am saying this because I care. Now, I am willing to bet that all of you, after you have read my review of Carrie’s acting, will go see the movie yourself (it opens on April 8th. That is a Friday.) and vehemently deny that my blog held any merit because Carrie was AMAZING in the movie, using the various tweets and articles declaring the same as your evidence (and when I see it again, I may think the same thing). Or you will see the truth in my words, and make up excuses instead. That is what I started to do (I mean, hey, she took a red-eye from the Super Bowl and was on set filming a few hours later. She was only there for like two days. Give the girl a break!) before I realized that I do not need to make excuses. That was her performance, and I am perfectly fine with it. She, as far as I know, has had two acting roles (one in How I Met Your Mother, the other in Soul Surfer) and she was good in both. She will only get better (might I say in her role in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, the one that has been rumored???). To be perfectly honest with you, my readers (or the one person still reading because I have yet to make you angry), I only saw the movie because of Carrie Underwood. And I am happy that I did. It was a wonderful movie, and Carrie delivered a solid performance!
I know what you are asking yourselves now: What about Taylor Swift? To some, that may seem an odd question to ask. Miss Swift did not grace us with her presence in this film, nor is she affiliated with it in any way (that I am aware of). However, it is no secret that Carrie fans do indeed compare the two artists, and also Taylor Swift has had the same amount of acting experience (in CSI: Miami and in Valentine’s Day). I am glad to inform you that Carrie did indeed surpass Taylor’s performance in Valentine’s Day, however I think that her (meaning Carrie’s) performance was equal to that of Taylor in CSI. Why is that? Well, because in CSI, Taylor seemed to overact, but she was right for the part (as far as I can tell). The opposite is true for Carrie. She appeared to underact, yet she was the one for the part (yet I am still fuzzy on why they cast her). While Taylor needs to tone down the emotion, Carrie needs to turn it up. Really, I need to see her connect with the other characters.
Of course, I may be biased because I am a fan of hers (now you think I am crazy because my review was in all accounts lukewarm). I say that I am biased, because I know what Carrie can do. I have seen her do those things. I have seen her connect with her audience on an emotional level, whether it be on stage at a concert or in a music video (I cried when I watched Temporary Home for the first time). She CAN do it! I am just waiting for the day that she does.
What else can I say about this movie that I have not already briefly outlined? Oh, yeah, GO SEE THE MOVIE! It opens Friday, April 8th, 2011. I will be there. Will you?
PS. Carrie was really, really pretty in the movie! So if you do not care about her acting or the story itself, go to the movie to see her! ;)
PPS. Seriously, Soul Surfer is a movie for everyone. It is inspiring, uplifting, and just a wonderful story!