I knew going into the screening of "Soul Surfer" that it was a faith-based film, so as soon as I saw the church scene, just minutes into it, I raised a shield and prepared for a preachy film.
Only it wasn't.
Instead it served as a welcome into the home of the gutsy teen surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a shark attack and courageously overcame all odds to become a champion again, inspiring millions worldwide through her sheer determination, her go-to parents and surfing siblings.
Based on Bethany's autobiography, "Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family and Fighting to Get Back on the Board," and directed by Sean McNamara ("Bratz"), the story begins with a narration explaining the root of Bethany's passion for surfing and surfer's credo that made her ride again, "Life is an adventure, and sometimes you wipe out and land in the impact zone."
The voice-over narrative by Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") is a pleasing backdrop to the vignettes of video showing her as a child, learning to balance on a surfboard when most kids are still crawling on all fours and later as a tween around a fun-loving circle of family and friends, including mom and dad (Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt), brothers (Chris Brochu and Ross Thomas), cool canine, BFF Alana (Lorraine Nicholson) and Alana's dad, Holt (Kevin Sorbo).
Moving on we see Bethany and Alana as inseparable gal pals. They attend the same open air church, home school taught by Bethany's mom and are both members of the community youth group led by Sarah (Carrie Underwood). Whenever the girls have a second to spare they're at the beach or in the water.
It's a wonderful life and while parts of the movie are hokey, mom and dad duking it out on the waves and the family's sand-slinging afterward, what we glean from it all is that these people are close, grounded in their faith and, like many Midwestern families who are nuts about hockey, these guys are stoked about surfing.
There's plenty of spectacular surfing scenes and what's not to like about Hawaii's beautiful coastline. Of course, anytime there's action or floatation, everyone in the theater is thinking the same thing -- shark. Where is the shark? McNamara makes a point, in several scenes, to show us how vulnerable these surfers are, making Bethany's story even more incredible.
When the shark makes its move, and bites off Bethany's arm along with a piece of her surfboard there are yelps in the audience. But nobody turns away because of too much gore. Remember this is a PG-rated film. Viewers know what is happening and are sitting on the edge of their seat. The attack played out quickly as it might have in real life. Stealing the scene was not the tiger shark, but Sorbo as Alana's no-nonsense, quick-thinking surfer dad, whose quick actions in getting Bethany off the water and to the hospital saved her life.
En route to the hospital is Hunt, as a mom gearing herself up for the worst, weeping and praying, "Please don't take her. Please don't take her," as she's passed by the ambulance carrying Bethany. Caught up in the moment of seeing a young girl (she was 13 at the time) involved in such a traumatic experience, one can try to hold back the tears, but eventually they fall.
Craig T. Nelson as the doctor who treats Bethany, and Quaid as Bethany's father, who was set to have his knee operated on when the hospital gets the call that there's been a shark attack, do a wonderful job of portraying their compassionate and loving characters. At this point, audiences know, having seen Bethany and her dad sharing their passion for surfing or heart-to-heart chats that only a father and daughter could have, that dad's heart is breaking.
So again you cry.
I cried a couple of times," said a teenager, exiting the show.
Robb has no trouble making you believe she's a surfer, and a likeable teen, so again you're moved by the sight of her on a gurney, facing life without a limb. In several stories about the film, Bethany noted her approval of Robb's work, which included hours on the surfboard and getting to know the character she would portray. Bethany did several of the film's surfing stunts, which also attributed to the excitement of the action shots on the water.
Not so great in her debut as an actress was Underwood.
Her performance as the church counselor was soulless and she looked mean on the big screen.
When Bethany travels with her and the Christian youth group to Phuket, Thailand, to help victims of the 2004 tsunami, shortly after her recovery, you expect the church counselor to be supportive. Instead, she mutters something that sounds like pull yourself together and get back to work. What saves the scene are the actions of Robb as Bethany, a real-life heroine, using her passion for the sea and compassion for humanity to help a lone boy, whose family appears to have been lost in the tsunami, overcome his fear of the ocean.
It leads us to believe that in her final attempt to win a surfing championship, that despite the odds stacked against her; she will overcome this, too. And she does, with all of the excitement and hurrah that any stellar sports story could muster.
The film is 106 minutes.
It could have done without the media-bashing scene and the fictional villain Malina Birth (Sonya Balmores Chung). Instead of the Hollywood recipe calling for an antagonist, writers could have delved deeper into Bethany's inner struggle to find her place.
Still, "Soul Surfer" is worth the visit.
You'll leave the theater as you would the home of a good friend, feeling entertained, inspired and glad that Bethany shared her story with you.
About "Soul Surfer"
Genre: Drama, kids/family, adaptation, biopic and sports
MPAA Rating: PG
Distributed by: Enticing Entertainment, TriStar Pictures, FilmDistrict
Check out the other films opening in theaters today along with other events going on in the Metro Detroit area:
British actor and comedian Russell Brand stars as the irresponsible charmer who must choose between an arranged marriage and more money than he can spend in a life time, or an uncertain future with his one true love.
Comedy, romance and remake of "Arthur" starring Dudley Moore.
PG-13, for alcohol use throughout, sexual content and some drug references.
Cast: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner, Greta Gerwig, Nick Nolte and Luis Guzman.
Directed by: Jason Winer
Born To Be Wild
This documentary about the orphaned orangutans and elephants of the wild and the extraordinary people, who rescue and raise them, captured in IMAX 3D, transports moviegoers into the lush rainforests of Borneo.
MPAA Rating: G
Cast: Dr. Birute Galdikas, renowned primatologist; Dame Daphne Sheldrick, celebrated elephant authority.
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Hanna, the daughter of an ex-CIA agent, is raised in the wilds of Finland to become the perfect assassin. As she nears her ultimate target as a killer, Hanna faces startling revelations about her life and her humanity as a 16-year-old girl.
Genres: Drama and thriller
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense scenes of violence and action, some sexual material and language.
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng
Directed by: Joe Wright
Distributed by: Focus Features
Behind every handsome hero or brave knight, whose tale of chivalry has been told, is a good-for-nothing younger brother trying just to stay out of the way of the danger zone with all of its villains, fire-breathing dragons and basic trouble. Such an unlikely hero is Thadeous, the younger brother of the honorable Fabious, who must give up his life of leisure to help Fabious save his bride-to-be, Belladonna, who has been kidnapped by an evil wizard.
MPAA Rating: R for strong, crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity, violence and some drug use.
Cast: Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Theroux, Toby Jones, Damian Lewis, Charles Dance and Rasmus Hardiker.
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Comedy Night to Benefit Kids
Joe Nipote’s Comedy Slam: A Night of Slamming’ Standup Comedy, benefitting the Birmingham Family YMCA Strong Kids Campaign, April 16 at the Reserve, 325 South Eton, Birmingham, features a number of favorite comedians including “Big Al” from the Dick Purtan Show, Mike Green, Heywood Banks, David Landau and Dave Dyer. To reserve tickets ($75 and $100) call the Birmingham YMCA, (248) 644-9036.
Find treasures when the 29th Detroit Historical Society Guild Flea Market takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 9-10, at Historic Fort Wayne, 6325 W. Jefferson at the foot of Livernois in Detroit. During those two days, tours also will be offered at the fort complex, including the Commanding Officer's House, the Spanish-American War Guard House and the National Museum of the Tuskegee Airmen. Parking is $5 per vehicle, tours are $3 per person, and flea market admission is free; refreshments and baked goods available. Call (586) 771-1353.
Ukrainian Easter Egg decorating class, "Pysanky: The Art of Ukrainian Easter Egg Decorating," 1-3 p.m. April 9, at Chesterfield Township Library, 50560 Patricia. Material fee: $5. Registration required by calling (586) 598-4900.
Meat & Miscellaneous Raffle, doors open 6 p.m., raffle 7:15 p.m. April 9, at Cpl. Neil W. Reid VFW Post 2358, 25671 Gratiot south of Frazho in Roseville. Raffle includes more than 200 items, including beef, pork, ham and turkey; refreshments available. For details, (586) 791-9919.
The Baldwin Public Library and The Community House of Birmingham will present a meet and greet luncheon and book signing with best-selling author, Michael Connelly. Connelly’s crime novel, “The Lincoln Lawyer” has just been released as a major motion picture. Cost: $40. Book Beat will provide books for purchase and signing. To register, call (248) 644-5832 or visit The Community House, 380 South Bates Street, Birmingham.
All The World's A Stage youth theater presents "Charlotte's Web," 7 p.m. April 13 at Macomb Center for the Performing Arts, Garfield and Hall roads, Clinton Township. Tickets $10 advance, $12 at door; visit Macomb Center for Performing Arts or call (586) 286-2222. Show features local youth ages 6 to 18 years.
"Richly Russian Noble and Folk Treasures" concert, 3 p.m. April 10, by the Warren Symphony Orchestra, at Macomb Center for the Peforming Arts, Garfield and Hall roads, Clinton Township. Concert includes performance by young people from the Suzuki String Studio. Tickets: Warren Symphony Orchestra
All-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner hosted by VVW Post 7, $8 per person, free ages 8 and younger, served 1-6 p.m. April 10, at VFW Post 7573 hall, 35011 23 Mile Road, New Baltimore.
Regina Players present "Annie," 7 p.m. today through April 9, in the Regina High School Cafetorium, 13900 Masonic Blvd., Warren. Tickets: $8 students, $10 adults, at the door or in advance at the school. Call (586) 585-0500.
Michigan opera singer Sean Panikkar performs 8:30 p.m. tonight in a Pro Musica of Detroit, Inc., event at the Max M. Fisher Music Center on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. Tickets: $45, or $10 students, available at box office, by calling (313) 576-5111.
Quilt show at Romeo Washington Bruce Parks & Recreation Community Center, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. April 29-30. Admission: $5. No strollers. Proceeds benefit area seniors.
Lakeside Palette Club monthly meeting, 7 p.m. April 14, in St. Clair Shores Activities Room at the Shores Civic Arena, 20000 Stephens will feature acrylic painting demonstration by Delores Kurily. Visit The Lakeside Palette Club
Detroit Historical Society's "Behind the Scenes" series continues with guided tours of Dime and Ford Buildings, April 9; Masonic Temple, April 16; Historical Detroit motorcoach tour, April 30. For schedule and fee information, call (313) 833-1801 or visit Detroit Historical Society
Warren art display
Artist of the month Nancy Curnow displays watercolors, acrylics and prints through April, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday on first floor of Warren City Hall, 12 Mile and Van Dyke.
Detroit Historical Guild seeking volunteers interested in participating in historical activities, including flea markets at Old Ft. Wayne, tea parties, excursions to historic sites, etc. Call (586) 777-5898.
Troy Dining Out Meetup Group gathers to explore area restaurants and provide fellowship, 9 p.m. April 8 at Roger's Roost in Sterling Heights. For details, visit Troy Dining Out Meetup Group
"Follow That Bird," classic 1985 Sesame Street movie, presented 4 p.m. April 10, at Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts, 350 Madison Ave., Detroit. Family four-pack (one adult minimum) $25, available at box office or Ticketmaster
University of Detroit Mercy Theatre Company presents Shakespeare's "The Tempest," through April 10, at Marygrove Theatre, 8425 W. McNichols, Detroit. Tickets: $18 adult, students $9; additional $3 service fee for non-subscribers other than students. Call (313) 993-3270 or visit UDM Theatre Company
"I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," through April 10 at Andiamo Novi Theatre, 42705 Grand River Ave. Dinner and show packages available, for reservations: (248) 348-4448.
Line dance classes offered by Royal Oak Parks & Recreation Department, 7-8 p.m. Mondays April 11-June 6, at Addams Elementary School, 222 W. Webster between Woodward and Crooks. Cost: $40 for each series, $45 non-resident. Call (586) 777-7242.
Bird walks, offered by Ford House and Wild Birds Unlimited in Grosse Pointe, 7:30 a.m. April 16, at the historic home, 1100 Lake Shore Road, Grosse Pointe Shores. Fee $7 per person; participants should bring binoculars, wear layered clothing and waterproof footwear. Reservations required, (313) 884-4222 or The Edsel and Eleanor Ford House
Unique Vehicle Pairs Spotlight Series and Collector's Curb specialty exhibits throughout the year at Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills. For schedule, visit Walter P. Chrysler Museum. Admission $8 adults, $7 ages 62 and older, $4 ages 6-12.
New traveling exhibit "Barsamian: 20 Years-Searing for the Answer," through July 10, explores questions about Armenian genocide through art, at Holocaust Memorial Center, 28123 Orchard Lake Road, Farmington Hills. Hours 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday; (248) 553-2400 or Holocaust Memorial Center.
The Detroit Institute of Arts on Woodward Avenue, exhibit "Fakes, Forgeries and Mysteries," through April 10, a behind-the-scenes look at how art experts and scientists determine if a work of art of art is genuine, fake or if the evidence is inconclusive. Tickets are $12, $6 for ages 6-17, and free for DIA members. Tickets include general museum admission.
TODAY'S MUSEI can't change it. That was God's plan for my life and I'm going to go with it -- Bethany Hamilton.