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Soul Surfer Rides Wave of Faith, Resilience

<i>Soul Surfer</i> Rides Wave of Faith, Resilience

DVD Release Date: August 2, 2011  
Theatrical Release Date: April 8, 2011
Rating: PG (for an intense accident sequence and some thematic material)
Genre: Drama, Adaptation, Biopic
Run Time: 106 min.
Director: Sean McNamara
Actors: AnnaSophia Robb, Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, Carrie Underwood, Lorraine Nicholson, Sonya Balmores, Craig T. Nelson, Kevin Sorbo

The faith crowd no longer needs to apologize for movies that cater to their values. Soul Surfer, a new film about real-life surfing star Bethany Hamilton, confirms what the megahit The Blind Side previously demonstrated: that Christian values don’t have to be relegated to low-budget, poorly acted and badly written films.

Although Soul Surfer isn’t on the same crowd-pleasing level as The Blind Side—don’t expect Oscars for this one—it’s more than adequate in the acting department, and sets itself apart with strong cinematography and a vivid score from Marco Beltrami (The Hurt Locker, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada).

Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb) has always felt at home in the ocean. Born to two surfer parents (Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid) in Hawaii, she grabs her surfboard whenever she’s not being home-schooled. Her friend Alana (Lorraine Nicholson) shares her passion for riding the waves. The two of them train together for a regional competition, buoyed by corporate sponsorships for their budding surfing careers.

Church is also a big part of Bethany’s life. She attends outdoor worship services with her family, and has plans for an overseas trip with her youth group. Everyone has hopes for Bethany, including youth group leader Sarah (Carrie Underwood), who quotes Jeremiah 29:11 to Bethany, reminding her that God has plans for her life. A pro surfer tells Bethany’s father, “With her heart, her will, she’ll go far.”

But no one foresees the trials Bethany is about to experience: The teen’s singular focus on surfing comes to a sudden halt after a shark severs her arm. However, Bethany’s reaction to her setback and her determination to compete as a one-armed surfer serve to confirm predictions about her character and prospects.

Soul Surfer sprinkles a few moments of doubt into its narrative, as when Bethany asks Sarah, “How can this be God’s plan for me?” Sarah responds, “I have to believe something good is going to come out of this,” and the rest of the film shows that “something good” in the form of Bethany’s surfing performance in a competition with rival surfer Malina Birch (Sonya Balmores).

Soul Surfer is inspirational both in its story of overcoming physical setbacks and in its upfront depiction of the role faith plays in the lives of Bethany and her family. Quaid and Hunt have grown into mature performers who are unafraid to show a few wrinkles, while Robb (Bridge to Terabithia, Because of Winn-Dixie) continues to impress in another family- and faith-friendly story. Underwood doesn’t wipe out in her acting debut, reciting her lines with a conviction that sounds like it’s grounded in real-world faith (Underwood has spoken openly about her Christianity). Tech credits are impressive, with cinematographer John Leonetti’s sunny surfing footage a standout.

Parents should be pleased with Soul Surfer and its positive message of faith and empowerment, but they should be cautioned against taking children who might be frightened by the shark attack scene, which is quick but traumatic. That scene is, of course, integral to the power of Bethany’s story, and the subsequent scenes of Bethany’s comeback should help alleviate the moments of horror associated with the attack.

Daughters, especially, will enjoy Soul Surfer, but the charge Soul Surfer offers crosses gender lines and ages. It’s a ripping good time at the cinema.


  • Language/Profanity: None.
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: None.
  • Sex/Nudity: None. Several beach and surfing scenes with bikini-clad women; husband and wife kiss.
  • Violence/Crime: A shark attacks Bethany and bites off her arm; Bethany goes into shock after the attack, and the stump where her arm was is visible throughout much of the rest of the film; vomiting; a dead shark is shown; surfer interference between rivals in a competition.
  • Religion/Morals: Bethany’s family attends church together and prays for each other; prayers from Bethany’s loved ones that the Lord not “take her” after the shark attack; a worship service includes a praise band leading the congregation in singing “Blessed Be Your Name”; Sara quotes Jer. 29:11; Bethany travels to Thailand on a missions trip with World Vision; Bethany’s dad reads the Bible at her bedside; her doctor calls her a “living miracle”; Philippians 4:13 is quoted; Sarah tells Bethany she was praying for her every minute after she heard about the shark attack; Bethany asks Sarah, “How can this be God’s plan for me?”; father thanks God for his friends and for his daughter.


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