I was expecting this to be bad. Like, really bad. And maybe that’s why I ended up liking it as much as I did. Sure, it’s not great. It’s not even good. The actual film-making on display here is amateur at its worst, and sloppy at its best. As a devout atheist, the film was a bit overly religious. I understand that the family that this is based on is extremely religious, but I still felt like it didn’t need to be built up as much as it was.
I honestly thought this aspect was going to be much worse, but it was a lot more tame than I was originally expecting (most of the time it acts only as context for the situation and characters, but there are a couple of times throughout the movie where it feels a bit like heavy-handed preachiness).
Religious views aside, the actual themes of the film were direct and properly conceptualized. There is a scene towards the end of the film where John is sitting with his family and the Pastor at the front of the church (this is after he has made his recovery). In this scene, the Pastor tells John’s rescue team to stand up. Then the police officers. Then the doctors and nurses. Then the kids at school that prayed for him. Then the people at church that prayed for him. At the end of it all, the entire church is standing. While I don’t believe in the power of prayer, I think that the scene holds strong implications thematically that end up working in the movie’s favour.
Even if prayer is ineffective, this scene still highlights how a tragic situation is dealt with in the community. It wasn’t just John and his family that were affected. It was everyone. Especially in a community like that, where it seems like everyone knows everyone. We are all affected and we must rely on each other for support. Luckily, John survives. But if he hadn’t, the community would have come together in a different way.
This isn’t the first time in the movie that this theme is presented, either. The film is constantly examining the role of family and community during difficult times. And this is at its most apparent with John’s mom, Joyce. Joyce NEVER gives up on her son, no matter what. Even when her husband and the pastor are doubtful, Joyce chooses to believe. Whether this seems like delusion, stupidity, or whatever else… it works because it is believable.
There are even a couple of scenes where Joyce demands that doctors, visitors, and family do not speak ANYTHING negative about her son’s situation. While I understood that it must have been an emotional time, I kept thinking that Joyce was going a bit too far and was trying to control things that she couldn’t control. And to my surprise, the film addresses it head on. Joyce’s husband Brian confronts Joyce and tells her that she basically needs to be nicer to everyone. Joyce exclaims that she is fighting for her son’s life, to which Brian responds with “We all are!” (or something like that).
This causes a moment of reflection with Joyce’s character as she comes to realize that she has been trying to control every possible factor of every possible outcome. And doing that is both useless and draining. Chrissy Metz as Joyce Smith was an outstanding performance (despite a few hiccups over the course of the film) and her character was easily the most well-thought-out and relatable in the entire movie.
On the other hand, Pastor Jason was an extremely weak character in terms of how it was written and developed. Also, Topher Grace was a weird choice for him. It just seemed a little awkward.
Breakthrough was a surprisingly good movie, completely defying my expectations for it. While it would be easy to classify it as a Christian drama film due to the prominence of religion in the plot and characters, I think it ends up being much more than that. It is a tale of dealing with loss, tragedy, and devastation. Not only for the parents, but for the greater community whether it is church or school. Events like these affect everyone in the community, and the community must support each other in times of need and desperation. It’s how we learn to deal with things, and learn from our experiences. It’s how we heal. And while the ending was a happy one, I believe that everyone in that community has been permanently affected and changed because of what happened.
7/10 – Good