I recently saw the inspirational movie Soul Surfer, which is based on the real-life story of Bethany Hamilton, a Christian teenage surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack several years ago. Unlike Fireproof, Soul Surfer had a multi-million dollar budget and major studio backing, and as a result offers viewers Hollywood production values and “name” actors who were able to bring the script to life. The movie was shot in Hawaii and makes the island look gorgeous. The surfing is also authentic – the real Bethany Hamilton did the surfing for her movie self – and is well-filmed.
Oftentimes when Christian stories go through the Hollywood machine, the Christian content gets watered down so as to draw a wider audience (i.e., not “offend” anyone). That didn’t really happen in Soul Surfer. We see the characters attending church and singing worship songs, Carrie Underwood shows up as the youth group leader to read scripture and go on missions trips, and Bethany’s dad is reading the Bible as he watches over her in the hospital. I was surprised to see this degree of realism of a contemporary evangelical lifestyle in a major theatrical feature, but the movie manages the minor miracle of not being preachy or self-conscious about it. The Hamilton family’s faith is presented as a normal part of their lives, not a Special Teachable Moment or Time Out For An Altar Call To The
Heathens Unsaved We Tricked Into Seeing This Movie That’s Supposed To Be About Surfing But Not Really HaHa.
Notable for readers of this blog is the portrayal of Bethany’s parents by Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt. It’s not just that they were believable as parents and a married couple (they were), but they were believable as a married couple who loved each other and LIKED each other and still had a sexual spark between them. It was a pleasure to see. Too often in movies and TV, longtime married couples who get along are portrayed as kindly roommate-partners whose pinnacle of passion is a peck when the husband or wife comes home from work, or maybe an affectionate side hug.
Funnily enough, although Soul Surfer is primo youth group entertainment, I can see it being controversial in some circles because the girls wear string bikinis throughout much of the movie (although during the surf competitions, they wear colored surf shirts). To someone familiar with beach/surf culture, this is ordinary and unremarkable, but I can already imagine the handwringing over whether to let hormonal teenage boys view the movie for fear of inciting lust.
(For parents – there is zero bad language, and even the shark attack is pretty benign.)