Courtesy of Fox
I’ve never been a religious individual, I don’t go to church on a regular basis, and I don’t spite anyone that does - faith is a big component of everyday life, and I accept that even if I don’t always believe in it. Some may say that doesn’t grant me the right to review the new faith based film “Breakthrough” because I’m not those things. However, I’m all for an inspirational tale and I do believe that miracles happen every day, nor do I dislike films of this genre (to my surprise, I enjoyed “I Can Only Imagine” last year) - my issue with *most* faith based projects is not for their message, but how they push their own agenda, forgetting to differentiate the causal moviegoer from the targeted demographic. Try as it might, the new film “Breakthrough” isn’t an exception.
Now, for as well intentioned Roxann Dawson’s directorial debut is, “Breakthrough” gets buried in its own stock characters, soap opera production values, and corny dialogue to the point where it forgets to sway the non-believers in attendance. The narrative is shallow and, despite being based on a true story, registers as painstakingly cornballish.
John Smith (Marcel Ruiz) is your average 14-year-old: He’s a stud on the basketball team, listens to pop music, and forgets to do his homework while crushing on the popular girl in his sleepy St Charles, Missouri town. He is reminded daily by his compassionate (and adoptive) parents that he’s loved and serves a purpose. Though, no matter how much his mother, Joyce (Chrissy Metz), and father, Brian (Josh Lucas) shower him with affection, he’s plagued everyday with the guilt of his biological mother giving him away.
Joyce is a devoted mother and a women of unimitaged faith who tries to connect with her son despite his numerous attempts to keep her at a distance. She drives him to practice, and forces him to attend church each week despite “disagreements” with Jason (Topher Grace) the new hip and engaging pastor from California who desperately wants to connect with the millennial generation by saying things like “Dope,” “Lit,” and bringing in a rapper to sing worship tunes. She’s a touch more traditional and thus makes it harder for her to connect with both Jason and John.
This gets put in jeopardy after John, goofing off with his buddies, falls through sheeted ice on a frozen lake, becoming submerged under water for nearly 15 minutes before help arrives. Now, John has been underwater well past the time a human brain can survive without oxygen, but because this is a faith based film, here’s where the miracle begins: after the ER performs numerous life saving procedures (and being dead for nearly an hour) John somehow regains a pulse thus starting the long and tumultuous battle for his life. Some would say this teen literally coming back to life is unprecedented, Joyce would attribute it to the power of prayer.
And for the most part, that’s all “Breakthrough” is - folks staring at the camera in disbelief, saying big words in extremely dramatic fashion. The main doctor of the film is played by Allstate commercial mainstay Dennis Haysbert and some of his lines are so over the top (“We’re in uncharted territory”) I almost wish he would say: “You’re in good hands” with a wink. While Grace brings some spunk to his role as Pastor Jason, it all feels phoned in. Meanwhile “This is Us” standout Metz shows crucial layers for a mom going through the tribulations of such a traumatic event, and Lucas, playing the nagging husband who doesn’t believe what’s happening either, is fine too.
The issue from their performances isn’t there likeability, it’s how clunky and flimsy they all look in the grand scope of the picture. I’ve never watched parents at a basketball game without any conviction until I saw this movie (how does one clap and cheer, yet appear bored at the same time?) Seriously, all the movements and actions never seem organic with the background extras or side characters sharing awkward facial expressions as if they’re looking for a way out, it’s like they’re stuck doing all these actions without concrete motivations.
“Breakthrough” is occasionally moving, and the resounding and obvious message of love is strong enough to even tug at this critic’s heartstrings. Except Dawson’s film never lays the groundwork straight, she has to glaze the film in Hallmark sappiness before the actual message starts to become clear. No question the film will appeal to those who walk in having their faith in check and the best selling novel of which this film is based - “The Impossible” by Mitchell - tucked in their sleeve, but what about the rest of us on the outside looking in?