The obvious jokey double-feature comparison is fellow recent arm-loss big screen adaptation 127 Hours, but Soul Surfer is less stylistically adventurous and far more streamlined and built for conventional, heartland uplift than Danny Boyle’s Oscar-nominated film. A feel-good movie of genial deification, it tells the remarkable true story of Bethany Hamilton, who in 2003 lost a limb to a shark bite.
AnnaSophia Robb stars as the teenage Bethany, a Hawaiian surfing prodigy whose doting parents (Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt) home-school she and her siblings, the better to allow them time to also catch waves. After an accident claims her left arm almost all the way up to her shoulder, Bethany faces an uphill climb back toward competitive surfing with aplomb beyond her years.
There is something of a dearth of dramatic conflict here, since Soul
Surfer basically just amounts to a gorgeous, sun-toned and by all accounts extraordinarily well-adjusted family coping with an admittedly terrible tragedy and coming (further) together. There’s a lot of rah-rah moralizing and Christianist parallelism herein, not all of which connects. (An incredible seven screenwriters share story credit, from the adaptation of a book by three others.) But the performances are solid, appealing and wholly invested in across the board, and John Leonetti’s you-are-there cinematography is gorgeous, making for an engaging albeit predictable emotional ride that should play especially well in Red State rural and suburban areas. (TriStar/Film District, PG, 106 minutes)