Based on real events, Soul Surfer tells the story of Bethany Hamilton, a keen surfer who, in 2003, at the age of 13, lost her arm in a shark attack. Despite her handicap, she continued to hit the waves and went on to compete at the highest level.
It’s hard to describe Soul Surfer without using words like inspirational and uplifting – Bethany’s achievements would be impressive even for an able bodied person. However, don’t expect to see any well any rounded characters in this pedestrian, two dimensional effort – Bethany (Robb), for example, is portrayed as being so saintly she could probably do away with her surf board and just walk on the water. Meanwhile, her good, wholesome God fearing family, headed by Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt, all spend as much time in the wet stuff as they do on dry land. Even the dog surfs. And their idealistic Disneyfied life in Hawaii is enough to make you want to sell up and move there.
With Douglas Schwartz, the man behind Baywatch, as one of the writer/producers, the procession of identikit, sun kissed blondes should come as no surprise. The one brunette, Bethany’s black clad nemesis, Melina Birch (Sonya Balmores Cheung), looks like Darth Vader on a surf board in comparison.
The most ardent atheist might be put off by the thread of Christianity running through Soul Surfer. They shouldn’t be. That’s not what the film is about. If it was purely fictional it would definitely be a bit of a cheese fest. Knowing that Bethany Hamilton an actual person – watch out for the real life video clips at the end – and seeing the many things she has accomplished in her short life should be enough to help you overlook some of the film’s many shortcomings.
Is Soul Surfer suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
The shark attack, about half an hour in, might be scary for very young children although the incident is very brief, with no dramatic Jaws-like build up and only the slightest glimpse of actual shark.