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Soul Surfer

[Rating: 3/5]

Here is a nice film for those who enjoy the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books.  I honestly, sincerely do not mean that as a back-handed insult.  Sometimes something warm and comforting and a little bit inspiring is just what the doctor ordered.   Most movies about faith are either challenging and profound (like “Of Gods and Men”) or alienating to those within the faith, or just utterly ridiculous and embarassing.  “Soul Surfer” successfully navigates the waters between those currents (are you laughing or groaning at that metaphor?) to provide a decently entertaining, mildly inspiring, warm, friendly family movie. Based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton, a young and promising professional surfer who lost her arm to a shark attack but came back and continued surfing at a high level.  As a film, it is remarkable mostly for what it doesn’t get wrong.  It doesn’t overglamorize the shark attack.  It actually seems to know what a contemporary church service looks and feels like, and doesn’t treat people of faith like unbalanced nuts. And it manages to tell its story without getting all preachy and awkward, or maudlin and sentimental.

A lot of the water/surfing scenes are really beautiful and wonderfully filmed.  A lot of the acting is kind of plastic and shallow.  There aren’t many wrinkles in the story; it’s basically girl-is-happy/girl-has-trouble/girl-overcomes trouble with help of friends and family.  It has its ups and downs: There’s an evil surfer girl competitor who maybe isn’t so evil after all, and a missions trip where truly destitute, desperate and scarred people help the protagonist along on her own path of character development.  But the family dynamics seem real and spontaneous, and the touch-and-go scene when Hamilton is rushed to the hospital is perfectly timed to be tense but not too intense.

And maybe that’s the genius of “Soul Surfer.”  It’s chicken soup;  a bit bland, but never repulsive, never spicy, never hard to handle.   Sometimes that’s exactly the right thing.

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