I’m cynical, so I’m just going to assume that this movie takes place in a universe where child soldiers and cancer don’t exist, so of course God has nothing better to do than to save the life of one dumb kid who played on a frozen lake.
The story looks like it’s about a popular athletic teenager who falls through a frozen lake, is recovered, still alive, and his Christian mother prays for him to get better.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Chrissy Metz (AMERICA HORROR STORY [2011 – ongoing]), Marcel Ruiz (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of), and Josh Lucas (MARK FELT , and upcoming films THE SECRET  and FORD V. FERRARI ).
In support, we have Topher Grace (AMERICAN ULTRA  and PREDATORS ), Mike Coulter (GIRLS TRIP , MEN IN BLACK 3 , and the upcoming BLACK AND BLUE ), and Sam Trammell (NANCY DREW , and the upcoming LIFE SUPPORT ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have Roxann Dawson, known for 1 episode of REVOLUTION (2012 – 2014) and 3 episodes of HEROES (2006 – 2010). Penning the screenplay is Grant Nieporte, known for 1 episode of SABRINA, THE TEENAGE WITCH (1996 – 2003). Composing the score is Marcelo Zarvos, known for BEST/ENEMIES (2019), WONDER (2017), CHOICE (2016), AMERICAN ULTRA, and the upcoming OTHERHOOD (2019). The cinematographer is Zoran Popovic, known for UNBROKEN 2 (2018). Finally, the editor is Maysie Hoy, known for BROKEN BRIDGES (2006).
Y’all know how I’m going to like this. I’m not. Christian films… too pander-y for my taste. Still, I’ll take “more or less harmless” pandering than hate-mongering Christian films. I’d rather be annoyed than angry.
This is my honest opinion of: BREAKTHROUGH
Set in St. Charles, Missouri, circa 2015. Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz) is a loving mother to her bad attitude fourteen year old athlete son John (Marcel Ruiz). One day, he and his friends go out onto a frozen lake for some fun, but inadvertently fall in. John submerges, but his friends are fine. John is found fifteen minutes later, but despite the best efforts of the doctors, John is pronounced dead. Unable to accept losing him, Joyce screams to the heavens to save his life. To everyone’s surprise, he suddenly has a pulse. He’s taken to another medical facility for treatment, but his chances seem to be slim. None of this stops Joyce from believing that God will save John, or the community showing their support.
*sigh* Well, I’m sticking to it. It’s religious pandering, but I’d rather watch pandering than propaganda. Still, the movie isn’t great, but I suppose it’s better than most out there.
The first issue I took with the movie is its clunky tone. The movie literally opens on what I can only assume to be a dream sequence of John drowning in the lake and sinking very far. Already this is pretty unnecessary as it also doubles down with Jesus imagery with the sun glaring in front of him. It’s like this movie wanted to sum up what it’s about in the span of thirty seconds… which, I’m pretty sure the trailers did that enough, this movie was so heavily advertised. But what makes it even more wonky is that this is very grim imagery, but the very next scene is of John dancing to an upbeat tune. Talk about jarring.
But that’s small fish compared to the bigger problem of the movie, and that’s John himself. Not Ruiz, but John. This kid was bugging the absolute crap out of me. He is so rude, annoying, kind of creepy, and an absolute brat. His mom makes him eggs, which he feeds to the dog for no reasons. What, does he not like eggs? Are they burnt? They looked delicious to me. I know it’s “not cool” to tell your mom that you love them, or hug them, so that stuff I’d let slide if there was a compelling reason for it. But these scenes where he calls his parents by their actual names, he’s holding in some deep-seeded hatred that I don’t think is justified. Look, as an adopted kid myself, I understand completely what it means to be taken in by people who aren’t your parents, to feel like you’re not wanted, and that maybe the people who adopted you only did it to feel good about themselves. Maybe I’m just older now and can look back on those emotions and understand how wrong I was. But no matter how this movie wants to spin it, there’s two problems. One, no adopted kid, unless he has mental issues, would carry this hatred literally every day with him without having some good days. We don’t see those good days, or frankly, we never see him be likable in any way so he just looks like a jerk, making it pretty hard to care when he inevitably falls through that ice. I know it’s a horrible thing to say, but if I were a betting man, I would say the real John Smith is a much nicer person in real life than was portrayed here.
In fact, this jerk behavior wasn’t exclusive to John. Pastor Jason (Topher Grace) was introduced by kicking out Joyce and her book club so he could… I don’t know, do whatever it was that he wanted to do. There’s a sign up sheet, he tears it off and crumples it up, and tells them that it all has to be done digital now. Two things: one, if everything is digital now, why are they still doing the pen and paper method on the door? Two, even if that were true, do pastors not believe in chivalry, or proper mannerisms? Let the ladies have their book club and do your own crap somewhere else. And that he compares the TV show THE BACHELOR with commitment to God is particularly… well, very silly. I like to think that’s why Grace had to sit down for that line because it was so odd. Even Joyce has an oddly unlikable moment when she’s in church with her family and a rapper comes on stage to sing with the rock group. While I know it’s more out of how unorthodox this is compared to the traditional hymns, she looks so bitter that it could easily be misconstrued as racism the way that she glares at him. It’s almost hilarious. Or how about the time when Pastor Jason visits her at the hospital and she spits out that proverbial venom when she sees him and says, “Now’s not a good time.” Man, just because you don’t agree with someone’s methods, don’t viciously turn someone away who’s just trying to show compassion and sympathy. Or how about Brian, who refuses to sit with his son as he lies on the hospital bed, fighting for his life because he, “can’t see him like this.” What kind of father would hide behind that excuse?? I don’t know if this was true to life, but if it is… ho boy, let’s just leave it at that, shall we?
But let’s get to the meat of the story, and that’s Joyce and her praying to God to save John’s life. Now, I want to be a little fair here. If religion is a huge part of your life, and you’re a parent with a dying, or otherwise sick child, I can imagine that it’s only natural to pray constantly. And should anyone be inconsiderate, or stupid enough to be talking ill about John’s chances within ear-shot of the grieving mother and father, then I would be just as insistent about only talking positively around them. Or… you know, “get the @#$% out of my sight.” All of that I understand. Here’s where I draw a line though. Metz’s performance is all over the map, going from realistically begging for her son’s life, to unrealistically believing that her son is going to wake up at any moment. Optimism and faith are great, but at some point, doubt has to sink in and we need to see that. I suppose if you wanted to go full-force into denial, that could have worked a lot better too, but as is, I don’t think the flow between each emotional beat was smooth. As a result, Joyce just seems kind of bipolar, one minute believing her son is going to die, the next refusing to believe that anything’s wrong and it’s just a matter of time before he wakes up.
<<<SPOILERS – highlight to reveal>>> [ And I wish the movie had ended when John woke up. There’s almost twenty more minutes of the movie where John finds notes on his locker and at least one of them is all like, “Why do you get to live, but not my loved one?” or encounters bullies who make fun of (if you can call it that, their insults are so brainless) his ordeal, and his teacher at school VERY UNPROFESSIONALLY asking John why God chooses some people to live and others why not. What the hell, movie?? ]<<<END SPOILERS>>>
Here’s a list of some other minor issues I had with the flick:
- There’s a CGI pull-away shot in this movie. Why? I have no idea. It’s clunky, doesn’t look good, but… fancy cinematography, I guess.
- Why do we care about Abby (Maddy Martin)? I guess I know why we change perspectives to Pastor Jason from time to time, but who really cares about the daughter one of the doctors who tried to save John?
- I know this is a Christian film, but do we really need three freakin’ sun-glares? I already know what this movie is trying to get across! Quit hammering it in!
- Why did Tommy (Mike Coulter) think that the voice he heard was talking to him? Even contextually, the line “go back” didn’t make a whole lot of sense, as he… wasn’t going anywhere. Ultimately, the line should have been kept ambiguous, but I’m pretty sure it’s saying he heard God’s voice because he hears it again.
- That moment where John spit out the water when he was pulled out of the lake, you can clearly tell that he’s spitting it out voluntarily.
Now, I know a lot of you are probably expecting me to give it a low score and to just get on with it. Well… actually, I have to admit, this movie isn’t all bad and there are a few positive things I wanted to say.
Despite how I don’t always agree with how Joyce is portrayed in this flick, I do think that Metz is actually a pretty good actor in this. In the first act, she’s got some charm as that “lame, but kind of cool” mom who will dance in a dorky way to get her ignorant son’s attention. Actually, one of my favorite moments with her is during that breakfast scene where she and her family are praying and she’s all like, “I know you have plans for John, but I have no idea what they are yet,” or whatever she said in that sarcastic, trash-talking way, I admit to getting a chuckle out of that. I also enjoy how she’s got a pretty strong personality when Pastor Jason is bullying her out of the conference room where she’s doing her book club and talks crap about him. That was enjoyable too. Even during the heavier elements of the movie where she takes her feelings out on her husband as she tries to maintain a positive air around John, and the regret on her face after the fact, I can’t say that I wasn’t engaged to her performance. For as jarring as Joyce can be written, Metz’s acting may have been the saving grace for it. Really, though, the acting isn’t that bad, particularly from Lucas and Coulter.
During John’s first run in with the doctors, there’s this one doctor who’s pumping John’s chest in the CPR way (sorry if there’s a technical term for it, I don’t know it) and he just keeps at it even though everyone in the room is waiting for Doctor Kent (Sam Trammell) to call John’s death, but you can kind of see it in the assistant doctor’s eyes like he’s never tried to save a kid’s life before and doesn’t want to fail at saving his life and just keep doing what he’s trained to do, no matter how slim the chances are.
But what really takes the cake for me is how this town came together to show their support for John and the Smith family. Maybe as someone who lived twenty-minutes away from the Borderline Bar & Grill shooting, and whose house was at risk during the Woolsey Fire late 2018, I know firsthand what it’s like to be a part of a community, or neighboring community that pours their hearts out for those in pain. It’s stories like this that reaffirm, not my faith in God, but rather my faith in people. I have a soft spot for stories about small towns showing love and support to a single family. Maybe I don’t like this movie as a whole in regards to faith in God, but as a story about togetherness, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel for that.
Overall, I’m not calling this movie that bad, but it’s still not that good either. Make no mistake, I can get behind the acting, some of the smaller moments, and certainly the idea of a small community showing support and love. That stuff is done fine, even well. But there’s still far too much about the film that gets too heavy-handed with its religious imagery, the characters aren’t always likable, among many other reasons that are too exhausting to go through. Again, it’s probably the better movie of its kind, but not something I’d personally see a second time. As a recommendation, the religious community is going to see this regardless of my opinion, but as for everyone else… eh, it’s a pass. Rental at best.
My honest rating for BREAKTHROUGH: a weak 3/5
This week’s reviews:
Next week’s reviews:
- AVENGERS: ENDGAME