Step 2: Uplift the spirits. While there’s a fair amount of cheesy dialogue and Lifetime TV sensibilities, the film still touches your heart. Soul Surfer is a biopic about real-life pro surfer Bethany Hamilton, who, as a teenager, overcomes many obstacles after losing her arm in a shark attack. Starting when Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb) is a 13-year-old girl, we see she’s someone with an undeniably kind spirit and boundless energy, growing up in Hawaii with surfer parents (Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt). She learns to surf at a very young age with her best friend (Lorraine Nicholson), and the two eventually find themselves on track to becoming pro surfers.
Step 3: When the shark bites… Then tragedy strikes when Bethany is attacked by a shark while surfing, nearly dying after losing 60 percent of her blood. Now with only one arm, she is determined to go back in the water to surf but finds it very difficult. Bethany almost gives it all up. Yet, with the support of her family and her church youth counselor (Carrie Underwood), she embarks on a humanitarian journey to help victims in the 2004 tsunami disaster — and discovers her own courage to live out her dream of being a pro surfer.
Step 4: Move above the common. What delineates Soul Surfer from a TV movie of the week is, of course, the acting. Quaid and Hunt simply add a certain gravitas to the proceedings as the Hamiltons, who have provided a solid family unit. It’s also nice to see Hunt on the big screen again after a three year absence. Let’s hope to see more of her. Robb, best known for her roles in Bridge to Terabithia and Race to Witch Mountain, has the requisite amount of spunk and determination, while also showing what must have been Bethany’s insecurities and fears. Country superstar Carrie Underwood makes her film debut as the Christian youth leader, and I’m sure she played it pretty close to herself. Nicholson, who is Jack Nicholson’s daughter, does a nice job as the friend who witnesses her best friend getting her arm chewed off by a shark. One thing that sort of bothered me was the way the locals went after the shark and killed it (don’t worry, I’m not giving any major plot points away). It really wasn’t the fish’s fault; he thought she was a seal, like in most shark-to-surfer attacks, so why kill it? Poor sharks. But I digress.
Step 5: Move to Hawaii. Director Sean McNamara comes from kids’ TV (Even Stevens), so while he has a handle on the PG-ness of Soul Surfer, he’s not as good with the surfing sequences — at least not when it comes to using stunt doubles effectively. There are many obvious moments in which you can tell it’s not Robb — and even some laughable times when the actress’ face is superimposed on a real surfer in action. And yet, the special effects to hide Robb’s arm are completely believable. Go figure. Ultimately, though, McNamara captures the true spirit of Bethany’s story, managing to bring a big screen feel to what probably should have been a small screen sports flick. Filming in the gorgeous, lush and extraordinarily beautiful Hawaii also helps. I have to admit I walked out of the theater seriously considering chucking it all in, moving there and running a small sundries shop. I don’t surf, so not too afraid of getting a shark bite — and I can always get Netflix for my movie addiction. Who’s with me?!