Breakthrough (2019) Review
OF HOPE, FAITH, AND
Whether we believe in it or not, the power miracles are something that many have been fascinated for years. The idea of something extraordinary happen in an otherwise unforeseen and unexpected way is hoping displayed of giving hope and sense of inspiration to whatever when the “miracle” occurs from a bleak / terrible outcome (be it by chance encounter or by design from a higher power). It goes without saying that Hollywood has taken an interest in such “real life” tales of miracles, utilizing these inspiring accounts for cinematic storytelling. This includes such faith-based movies like 2014’s Heaven Is for Real and 2016’s Miracles from Heaven. Now, 20th Century Fox and director Roxann Dawson presents the latest motion picture that seeks to draw inspiration on the power of faith, religion, and the miraculous case of a “based on a true story” event with the movie Breakthrough. Does this act as a shinning beacon of hope for the masses or is it just another “run of the mill” faith-based movie?
The Smith family, consisting of Joyce (Chrissy Metz), her husband Brian (Josh Lucas), and their 14-year-old adopted son John (Marcel Ruiz) live in a small town near St. Louis, Missouri). While the family unit works well enough, John remains slightly distant to his parents (added worst by his teenage years), especially towards his faithful / kind-hearted mother, who desperately tries to connect with him. In January 2015, while goofing off with a couple of friends, John falls through a frozen lake, plunging into the icy waters. While first responders come to the rescue to save the teens, but John is the last to be saved and is unconscious and unresponsive. Rushed to the hospital, John remains lifeless (roughly for more than an hour), with many of doctors and nurses fearing the worst. Joyce, however, is not ready to give up on her son; mustering all her faith and strength into a plea to God to save him. Miraculously, her son’s heart immediately starts beating again. With her husband and their local church pastor Jason Noble by her side, Joyce anxiously await John’s outcome with the community offering prayers and concerns for the youth. However, while the road to recover is long, John continues battling a fever and weakened condition, while Joyce’s unwavering faith in “the Lord’s Plan” for her son, which is in stark contrast to the medical reasonings of John’s doctors.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Much like what I said above, everyone (whether they believe or not) love to hear stories of miracles. It’s almost like “human nature” to hear / see a miracle happen to them, to someone they know, or to just to some random person. It’s hard to explain, but it’s just something to give a “good feeling” about, despite whatever reason for behind the “miracle” occurs (i.e. by a simple act of chance or by destiny / fate). Regardless, the power of miracles is prolithic and something that should be not taking likely. As I mentioned, many entertainment outlets have come across the idea of “miracles” to be adapted for viewing experience, with a lot of stories meant for the big and small screen. This usually does accompany stories of religious faiths (i.e. faith-based movies), but that doesn’t extend to that particular genre (i.e. 2016’s biographical drama Sully). Still, the idea of miracles has always been a focal point in storytelling; capturing the wonder and miraculous mystery that plays out in a very unexpected time and way.
This brings me back around to talking about Breakthrough, a 2019 Christian faith-based release that tackles a dire situation through the power of a miracle and the religious faith of mother’s plea. As to be expected, Christian faith-based films (one or two a year) usually come out during major holidays (i.e around Easter and Christmas), with Breakthrough being released on Easter weekend. While I don’t remember hearing much “buzz” about this movie (via internet), I do remember seeing the film’s movie trailer every now and again during my weekly movie theater night outings. I did see it frequently (more than others) as it usually played with movies PG rated and above. Judging from the trailer, it definitely had all the standards of a Christian faith-based movie, including its promise of overtones and of a person’s faith in God. To me, it looked interesting as I did like two Christian faith-based films in 2018 (I.e. I Can Only Imagine and Indivisible) and the trailer for Breakthrough looked to follow the same fashion of cinematic storytelling. Thus, I was interested in seeing this movie when it got released, which I did during its opening weekend. What did I think of it? Well, it was okay endeavor. Breakthrough, while meaningful and inspirational filled with hopes through miracle working, never really “breakthrough” the storytelling mold of Christian-based feature. The story is palpable, but the predictable narrative execution of it all falters.
Based on real life events that are accounted in Joyce Smith’s book “The Impossible: The Miraculous Story of a Mother’s Faith and Her Child’s Resurrection”, Breakthrough is directed by Roxann Dawson, whose previous directorial works of TV shows like The Americans, House of Cards, and Cold Case as well as acting in several project such as Star Trek: Voyager, The Round Table, and Nightingales. Given the fact she had many directorial TV episode projects underneath her belt, Dawson makes the jump to feature films by making Breakthrough her directorial debut in motion pictures. To her credit, Dawson does a decent job, making the film gentle and respectful, presenting the Smith’s situation sincere within the context of a cinematic tale. There’s definitely room for improvement (more on that below), but the movie (overall) was still heartwarming and hopeful. To be truthful, the movie’s story / plot is definitely a parent’s worse nightmare and Dawson makes us (the viewers) feel for the character involved in this dire situation (be it the Smith family, their friends, or even their community). As a personal note, I do have a close relationship with my parents (especially my mom), so I can understand the dilemma / personal struggle that Joyce Smith faced when her son falls through ice and his very life hangs precariously between life and death. In addition, the movie reinforces that idea of love and powerful it can be, which is always fundamental to hear / discuss, especially since it’s a universal human trait and can usually tie into a person’s faith / belief. Because of these notions, I do sympathize with the story, feeling the emotion that comes out the feature and how Dawson handles it, making Breakthrough has that “feel good” movie, especially considering the outcome and how hope can exist through terrible times. This is made especially clear with the today’s current world, which is filled with hatred, racism, and acts of terrorism. A story of a miracle (regardless of how its presented…cinematically) is a reassuring trait that…. borrowing Samwise Gamgee’s line from 2002’s The Two Towers “There some good left in this world….and its worth fighting for”. Thus, given the events of today’s world… we all need a little “miracle” to brighten our day.
In terms of presentation, Breakthrough is a well-made feature film. No, I’m not saying that the movie will be nominated for any type of awards at any of these upcoming award season, but neither does the movie look terrible (presentation-wise) in any way shape or form. To be honest, it’s all “meet standards” in comparison to other religious faith-based movies projects. Again, I’m not saying that the efforts made by the film’s team, including James Steuart (art direction), Stephen Arndt (set decorations), Kimberly Adams-Galligan (costume designs), and Zoran Popovic (cinematography), are technically mediocre, but that they all meet the industry standards for a feature film like this. Thus, the film (its technical presentation layout) looks nice and pleasing to the eye (no more, no less). Also, while the musical score for Breakthrough, which was composed by Marcelo Zarvos, is good and (much like the rest of the technical “behind the scenes” people on this project) meets the industry standards (melodically speaking), the film does also feature a few musical selection songs throughout the movie; ranging from a few pop songs (a few years back) as well as the more traditional contemporary Country / Christian-based songs.
Unfortunately, Breakthrough does fall prey to a lot of pitfalls that similar features run aground on…most notable on its Christianity religious overtones. Thus, the film’s appeal an (in general likeability) might lean towards those of the Christian faith, making Breakthrough’s viewing experience limited to the mass of causal moviegoers. I’m not saying that bad or anything like that…. but you know what I mean. Coinciding with that, the movie does come across as being a little preachy within its Christian nuances and dialogue lines (more so that other features); conveying some religious aspect a bit “on the nose”. I guess it’s sort of the “name of the game” when trying to approach a story that draws upon faith religion. However, it’s much more noticeable in this movie…and hinders it.
The movie’s biggest drawback is in how predictably and formulaic everything plays out in the movie. If you seeing one movie, you seeing them all and Breakthrough follows a well-trodden trajectory path to a fault. The film’s screenplay, which was written by Grant Nieporte, has a lot of setup, drawbacks, and revelations that occur in the movie and are easily seeing coming and nothing really shocking (despite their palpability in the narrative). What also lacks in the movie is that their very little inner turmoil impact within the story. The plot of the movie is good, but the conflict plight that plays out lacks cinematic conviction. We (as the viewers) feel for Joyce Smith’s situation (as any mother / parent would feel for the child’s condition), but there’s little pushed back or inner turmoil beyond that; making the journey less-interesting than what the movie really wants to be. Additionally, the reoccurring “science vs. religion” debate is also presented in the movie, but overstays its welcome and becomes stale moniker overture that been done on various media medium outlets. In truth, Breakthrough feels a movie meant for Lifetime or the Hallmark Channel rather than a theatrical run on the silver screen.
In addition, while the film’s runtime is a little bit less than two hours (116 minutes or one hour and fifty-six minutes), the movie does have a few pacing problems, which is a combination of Dawson’s direction as well as Nieporte’s script handling. Another problem is within Breakthrough’s final stretch (or rather its last ten to fifteen minutes) by overstaying its welcome. What do I mean? Well, the movie has a perfect climatic moment to end the feature’s story on (in a very uplifting way), but Dawson / Nieporte tack on additional moments that feel out of space and seems a bit too contrive. Again, much like the story itself, the ideas in these scenes are poignant (and good for debates of the faith), but comes across as too preachy and really unnecessary. The movie does come back around in its final moments on a good note, but its last ten or minutes leave a sour taste in a sort of bland / pointless aftermath sub-plot.
The cast in Breakthrough has several recognizable faces (more than most Christian faith-based movies of recent) that play the feature’s characters (major and large supporting role ones). At the head is actress Chrissy Metz, who plays the film’s main lead protagonist of Joyce Smith. Metz, known for her roles in This Is Us, American Horror Story, and Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny, definitely gives a great performance in the film and carries a lot of the emotional / dramatic moments on her shoulders, which is handled fantastically. However, the problem of the feature’s narrative weighs her character down. You definitely feel / root for Joyce in the movie, but (again) the inner conflict within her character comes up short, which is mostly due to the script handling and how the film’s presents the story. You definitely feel her pain, worry, and overall emotional journey throughout, but that’s mostly due to Metz’s performance and not so on the character itself, which is a slightly disappointing.
Behind Met’s Joyce are several largely supporting characters, including actor Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama and The Mysteries of Laura) as Joyce’s husband / John’s adopted father Brian Smith, actor Dennis Haysbert (24 and The Unit) as John’s main physician doctor Dr. Garrett, actor Mike Colter (Girls Trip and Luke Cage) as the first responder who found John’s body in the frozen waters Tommy Shine, and actor Topher Grace (That 70s Show and Spider-Man 3) as Smith’s local young and modern church leader Pastor Jason Noble. With the exception of Colter’s Tommy (who has a little sub-plot of his own…in finding a moment with God), these characters play a part in Joyce Smith’s story as they interact with her and sometimes “butt heads” with her. Of course, Lucas, Haysbert, and Grace are up to the task in delivering some quality performances and are well matched up against Metz’s Joyce. To be honest, these quartet of acting talents lend their theatrical weight to the film, making their on-screen presence more known and making the film “handled” better (acting-wise) than several other Christian faith-based films.
Then there’s young child star Marcel Ruiz (Snowfall and One Day at a Time), who plays the film’s main catalyst character of John Smith (of which the film’s event circle around). To me, Ruiz did a good job in the movie, but (due to the nature of the story and the structure of the film), he doesn’t get a whole lot of screen-time to develop his character; respectfully bookending Breakthrough’s runtime. Again, this was to be expected (so there’s love loss or anything like that), but Ruiz does handle himself well to leave (to some degree) an emotional impact on the film. There rest of the cast, which are too numerous fully mention, are delegated to smaller supporting roles that fill out the remainder characters. Some of their moments “in the spotlight”, while others are just a footnote on a particular scene or two. In truth, some of these characters in the film do “blend” together and its hard to keep track of them all. Thus, despite their efforts (whether big or small ones), most of these characters are what some may call “throwaway characters” and forgetful.
Through tragedy and hopelessness, a small glimmer of hope can exist…such is the case with Joyce Smith and the miracle that came to her son (John Smith) in the movie Breakthrough. Director Roxann Dawson’s latest film sees the miraculous story of John Smith to the silver screen, reliving the trauma, heartache, and the power of Joyce Smith’s indomitable faith in believing her son’s will to live. However, Breakthrough is one of those movies has its heart in the right place, but lacks merit within its own narrative story conviction for the cinematic world. It’s well-acted and well-represented, but just simply comes up short with its predictable nature and overly familiar religious overtones. To me, the movie was okay. It definitely was a moving feature to watch (again, always good to hear about a positive “miracle” happening), but it was way too predictable and lacked “theatrical” meat on the film’s narrative bone (sort of speak). Thus, my recommendation for this movie is an “iffy choice” as some might like it (most likely those of the Christian faith), while others will dismiss it as a Lifetime / Hallmark Channel knock-off TV movie presentation. In the end, everyone loves a good story of a “miracle” (and justly so) and Breakthrough will provide that…. for those seeking it. It’s just not the greatest cinematic representation of neither a “true life” event nor a “faith-based film” to come from Hollywood.
3.4 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice)
Released On: April 17th, 2019
Reviewed On: April 21st, 2019
Breakthrough is 116 minutes long and is rated PG for thematic content, including peril