by George Wolf
As the faith-based genre has grown in recent years, many of the films have suffered from a frustrating lack of respect for their target.
Just hammer home a message for the believers, and they won’t mind if we really don’t worry too much about the rest of it, right?
Breakthrough gives that trend a refreshing buck, surrounding its incredible true story with solid performances, steady direction and more than a few moments of thoughtful, nuanced writing.
In January of 2015, Missouri teen John Smith fell through thin ice on a local lake. After an hour with no vital signs, he suddenly showed faint signs of life.
His doctor’s notes read: “Mother prayed.”
But beyond just a testament to the power of prayer, Breakthrough works as well as it does thanks to a commitment to the strength of John’s mom, Joyce Smith, and the touching lead performance from Chrissy Metz (TV’s This Is Us).
Though the Smith’s close-knit neighborhood is presented in broad strokes of idealism, Breakthrough hits a nice groove with the relationship between Joyce and her pastor (an engaging Topher Grace).
Wary at first of his haircut and attempts to bring “hip” to the church, mother and pastor bond as John (Marcel Ruiz) struggles for life, creating a nice parallel to how the film itself seeks to broaden the faith-based reach.
Director Roxanne Dawson and writer Grant Nieporte (both TV veterans) can’t entirely keep the heavy-handedness at bay, but they are able to find some genuine moments of authenticity. Even a late nod to the “Why him?” crowd, while not fully explored, lands as a worthy ambition.
It truly is an incredible survival story, and by grounding it in the spirit of a distraught mother, Breakthrough finds some solid ground.