In an instant, lives can change. In an instant, faith is tested. It is how we respond to the changes, to the tests placed in front of us, that defines who we become. In the movie Breakthrough, based on a true story, a family will have their faith tested.
John Smith (Marcel Ruiz) is a normal, average 14-year-old boy. He’s worried about girls and basketball and has only a passing interest in his schoolwork and his mom. As a baby, he was adopted by Brian (Josh Lucas) and Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz) in Guatemala. John has always struggled with the fact that his biological mother didn’t want him, but that’s about to become the least of this family’s worries.
On a winter morning in suburban St. Louis, John is hanging out with friends on a frozen lake when the ice gives way, plunging the three boys to the icy depths of the small lake.
Under the water for far too long, John has no pulse when he is pulled from the bottom of the lake. But all involved didn’t account for what God wants. In what can only be thought of as a miracle given the circumstances, when all hope seems lost, John’s heart starts to beat again — but that is just the beginning of the long fight ahead.
As a film critic, I try to approach all films with the same unbiased attitude. But in the interest of full disclosure, I must declare: I believe in God, and I believe in the power of prayer. As a mainstream film critic who will talk candidly about the latest faith-centered film right next to the latest horror film, it is my job to tell you what I think, and why I think that way. But I think you also need to know this part of my personal background to understand my thoughts. As a father who loves my child as much as Joyce loves hers in this film, I couldn’t help but let the emotions of the circumstances she encountered impact me.
Having perfected her dramatic chops on This Is Us, Metz delivers a performance that explores the truth that Christians are far from perfect. Her disdain for their new pastor, Jason (Topher Grace), and his hairstyle shows that even the individuals with the most faith can be petty. She reminds us that even those who have faith, who do believe, must humble ourselves to those around us. Nothing will ever get done without the cooperation of everyone, believers and nonbelievers alike, a message that can sometimes be missed in faith-based offerings.
The story of Breakthrough is a reminder that the power of prayer is an amazing thing. It’s an affirmation of the power of prayer, of its mystery and of love. But that prayer will not always give us the result we ask for or the result that we think we need or deserve. Why things happen as they do is a mystery to me and to so many individuals around the world, regardless of their beliefs.
Why do bad things happen to good people? I don’t know. But I also don’t know why bad things happen to anyone. I don’t know how to explain how science can be turned on its head from time to time other than as a reminder that we are not always in control, even if we like to think that we are.
Have a full box of tissues handy when watching Breakthrough, as many of you will need them. This film that isn’t afraid of its subject matter proclaims a powerful positive message despite the flawed individuals who convey that message. But aren’t we all a little flawed?
Prayer is powerful, no matter who is praying.
Breakthrough is available On Demand and on DVD beginning July 16. Check your cable system for availability