Thirteen-year-old surfer girl Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) survived something most do not – a shark attack. That’s good fortune enough, but the teen’s drive and determination to succeed beyond all expectations in the sport she loved became a worldwide media phenomenon.
A tiger shark chomped off her left arm and she nearly bled to death. The quick action of friends and surgery saved her. Bethany, according to this film’s account, appears to have taken the whole incident with the grace and serenity of a saint.
A very rare occurrence, its accompanying shock and new life challenges are taken as unquestionably religious signs. Soul Surfer is interested in hagiography and not honesty. This doesn’t just set out to seemingly fawn over Bethany Hamilton – it brings the full unreality of Hollywood with it piling cliché upon cliché.
Director Sean McNamara makes a complete hash of things from the get-go. It opens, after the obligatory surfing intro, with a happy-clappy Christian sing-song at a church by the beach. Then there’s lots of talk about spirituality and harmony with the waves. It’s like, totally deep, dude.
It’s abundantly clear the Hamilton’s religious. Yet the constant bleating about the Lord becomes as annoying (and welcome) as a Sunday morning knock at the door from the God Squad.
AnnaSophia Robb is far more glamorous and presentable on screen than the gawky, shy teen with braces we see during the end credits in video footage. The surf scenes are poor with nearly ever shot enhanced by CGI. The filmmakers couldn’t even be bothered to communicate the joy and thrill of surfing properly with incredible scenes for an incredible sport. The second act sojourn to Thailand, too, in the wake of the tsunami of 2004, is crass beyond belief.
Soul Surfer is a jumped up TV movie filled with fortune cookie wisdom and cheesy dialogue. Learning to surf using one arm – and becoming a champion too – could be full of drama: a Rocky on the waves. Any true sense of trial and tribulation is glossed over. Bethany was born to win, but this film born to lose.