Motion Picture Gems and a three-star review from Leonard Maltin. When a copy of the DVD found its way to my older daughter's office last week, she had the opportunity to bring it home this weekend so we could finally catch up with it.
Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) has grown up on Kauai with a close-knit family including her parents (Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt) and two brothers (Ross Thomas, Chris Brochu), as well as her best friend Alana (Lorraine Nicholson). Teenaged Bethany seems to be on her way to her dream of being a professional surfer when her arm is bitten off in a shocking shark attack. Bethany struggles to come to terms with her loss and new challenges, ranging from relearning the mundane activities of everyday living to attempting to resume surfing.
This is a very solid, well-made film which handles the unexpected changes in Bethany's life in a straightforward manner; it's touching but never maudlin. The film also has several things going for it beyond the storyline, including stunningly beautiful photography of Hawaii and an interesting depiction of surfing as a competitive sport.
AnnaSophia Robb convincingly plays a girl a few years younger than herself, and I found her very real as a good kid who alternates struggling with "Why?" and showing the courage and determination it will take to resume competitive surfing with just one arm.
I also thought Lorraine Nicholson -- daughter of Jack -- was excellent and believable as Bethany's lifelong best friend, who has her own emotional struggles due to the shark attack.
Dennis Quaid has been a favorite of mine for many years, going back to movies like THE RIGHT STUFF (1983) and THE BIG EASY (1987), and of course he starred in an excellent sports film himself, THE ROOKIE (2002). He and Helen Hunt are terrific as Bethany's supportive parents. There's an especially good scene where they're arguing about their daughter's future; it's effective because they each want the best for her, and they each have valid points.
The cast also includes the always-reliable Craig T. Nelson as Bethany's doctor, Kevin Sorbo as Alana's father, and singer Carrie Underwood as a youth leader at Bethany's church.
The film was directed by Sean McNamara. It runs 106 minutes.
Parental advisory: This film is rated a straight PG (not PG-13) due to the intense shark attack scene. (I left the room briefly during this sequence!) Otherwise this is a wholesome, genuinely inspirational story appropriate for the entire family. It's refreshing -- and fairly rare -- to see a recently made drama which doesn't automatically include cursing.
In fact, it's likewise refreshing to see a family depicted going to church, reading the Bible, and going on mission trips as a normal part of life, not something exotic or strange. Once upon a time, it wouldn't have been unusual for movies to feature such a family, but these days...well, it's sad that it's unusual. I also liked the film's matter-of-fact depiction of homeschooling as an ordinary lifestyle.
The movie is available on widescreen DVD. Extras include a documentary, featurettes, and deleted scenes. It's available from Netflix, although as I write this there is currently a "very long wait."
The trailer is available at IMDb.