When John, a highschooler, falls through the ice and is pronounced dead, his mother Joyce is confronted with her worst fears, hopeful faith, and the conflict between the two.
I didn’t want to watch this movie. It looked like the typical poor quality Christian Film which is about as well made and written as a Hallmark movie. It seemed similar to the movies “Heaven is for Real” and “Miracles from Heaven” (coincidentally bundled together for sale on Vudu). One of the big selling points in the marketing of this film was also that Steph Curry is the Executive Producer on it. As a non-basketball fan and actual fan of art, I couldn’t care less about Stephen Curry’s first attempt to push a Christian film through with no other assets than name recognition, his own personal wealth, and the “wisdom” of American Capitalist opportunism, tying the movie in with a best selling book.
Suffice it to say this movie had a lot going against it when I popped it in my Blu-ray player. Films have overcome worse skepticism on my part, however, so there is always a little glimmer of hope in my heart that the film will surprise me and be better than my critical viewing of a trailer has led me to believe it will be.
Unfortunately, all my fears about this film were confirmed and even a few things I did not expect to see ended up grating on my film sensibilities, my Christian experiences, and my nerves.
Where do you start with a film that fails so spectacularly? The over and under acting, the can’t-pull-focus film making, the choppy editing, the poorly-feathered-edge compositing, the straightforward-factual-account writing, or the let-me-state-my-inner-thoughts-for-no-reason” dialogue?
In the beginning of the film we get a montage that is a bit of an example of everything I hated about this film. Over the credits we get an image of a boy sinking into the icy blue water, a woman making breakfast, a man getting in his car for work, a paramedic getting some gear together, and a highschool boy getting ready for school to name a few. Basically, anyone who has a role to play in the film doing something mundane and super cliche’. No creativity involved.
Oh yeah. Over it all we have “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars playing. Lol. It is precisely how the Christian Film Industry views progression. It’s like they are saying, “This isn’t your Mom’s Christian Film,” all the while being as basic of a mom movie as I’ve ever seen.
This isn’t to say moms are inherently bad film watchers or even that all moms would like this film. I think we know which moms I’m talking about and which ones I’m not. It is clearly a film aimed at a particular audience and it aims at the lowest common denominator possible to reach that audience. Rather, this movie simply fails to provide that demographic with a film that will elevate or cause introspection, opting instead to provide easy, don’t get to dark, everything turns out ok, name dropping, go buy the book, crass, and base cynical filmmaking.
You may think I’m just heaping criticism for no reason but having read through the IMDB reviews for this film you can clearly see that there are 3 camps of people who have reviewed this film: The Christian who mainly watches Christian films and loved it, The person who watches all sorts of movies and appreciated a lighter film and gave it middleing reviews, and the actual film fan who hated it.
Much of why this movie failed for me, in particular is that the main character of the story, Joyce (Chrissy Metz, “This Is Us”) is so unbelievably unlikeable. First off, her meanness is unmotivated. It seems to come from nowhere much of the time. She just seems an angry person.
I don’t identify with her, feel sympathy for her, or have anything in the film to make me like her and see her attitude as a slight bruise on an otherwise perfectly good fruit. No. This character just seems like a straight up bad apple to me. Her good qualities like adopting a son are told to us rather than shown so we get no visual experience of seeing her being kind. It’s like they expect us to be with her just because the movie tells us we should be or because she goes to church even though she sulks through every service we see her go to.
Another reason the film fails for me is the editing. I am no editing snob. I do a little editing of my own but nothing fancy. I rarely notice editing good or bad so when I do it I either means there is something special or something atrocious happening that grabbed my attention which is normally on the story. Guess which kind this movie had. Shots that would literally last split seconds just to cover bad cuts simply highlights a bad cut if the shot is unmotivated and this film has those a plenty. It screams amateur film making.
The last thing that crushed this movie for me was its paint-by-numbers scene construction. If I tell you the broad strokes: tough adopted teenager dies, mean disillusioned Christian mom prays, kid comes back to life with the help of doctors and a community that rallies behind his care; I bet you could make a list right now of the scenes you expect to see in the film and 90% of the time I bet you’d be right. It has every tired cliche’ in the book. It seems to me that the writer did nothing to explore the subject in any meaningful way.
It really is a tragedy because as I have watched more old films and even newer, more competent ones than “Breakthrough” I have had the good fortune to see movies like “Ordet” and “Miracles from Heaven” (I can’t believe I’m referencing those two movies in the same sentence) which present similar ideas but better and more developed. I find myself thinking about all of the ways that “Breakthrough” could have been a really moving film. even an artistic one.
I’m not going to say there is no audience for this film. There certainly is. However, as with many movies that we have reviewed or are produced these days I simply wish to caution people to use discretion and be intentional about what they watch. It is one thing to watch this movie and find yourself engaging with it, growing from it, and being changed by it. It is quite another to watch it and be confirmed in it, made comfortable with your already held notions, or simply watch it because you support the Christian film industry.
If we don’t stop going to see these movies or buying them, they will never stop making them or stretch to make something better. I hope I am wrong about that but nothing in this movies or the myriad other Christian films I see have led me to believe that. It seems instead that Christians have so bought into the commercialism, consumerism, and entertainmentism of our age that they have lost the ability to tell the difference between art and enterprise. When given the opportunity to make a film, it is almost always a carefully designed product to make money off of rather than a work of art intended to resonate with the soul.
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