In January 2015, 14-year-old John Smith was playing with two friends on the frozen surface of Lake St Charles, Missouri when all three of them fell through the ice and almost drowned. Although the other boys were recovered having suffered very minor injuries, John remained submerged underwater for 15 minutes before being rescued by emergency services.
After spending an agonising 45 minutes working to revive him, John was eventually declared unresponsive by a team of doctors and nurses at the local hospital. However a few minutes later, the teenager appeared to come back to life seemingly thanks to audible prayers of his deeply devout mother Joyce.
In Breakthrough, director Roxann Dawson tells the story of John Smith and his “miraculous” recovery in this rather schmaltzy and religiously charged adaptation of a book written by the teenager’s own mother about her experiences.
Starring Chrissy Metz (This Is Us) as the boy’s mother Joyce Smith, and Topher Grace (That 70s Show, BlacKkKlansman) as the town’s hip new pastor whose unorthodox methods have rattled a few cages, the film takes us step by step through the agonising hours from the moment of the accident until the happy denouement.
While it’s essential not to sneer at or dismiss stories about faiths as a rule, it’s safe to say that Breakthrough doesn’t do the Christian movie genre any favours. Director Roxann Dawson and writer Grant Nieporte offer a decidedly contrived and excruciatingly cringeworthy narrative which manages to be both sanctimonious and intelligence-insulting in equal measure.
Forgoing any kind of logic or even narrative sense, Dawson gives a fairly simplistic version of the events whilst never daring to challenge the mother’s own beliefs or what made her or her family so special as to be granted this miracle. And to make matters worse, we are treated throughout to frequent musical renditions for no apparent reason. At one point a choir made out of school children and family friends appears out of nowhere to serenade the poorly teen outside his hospital window. This sequence goes on for far too long and by the end you’ll wish you could just make your excuses and call it a day.
Chrissy Metz does a respectable job in depicting the anguish of a mother with a sick child. Whilst Topher Grace is relied upon to bring some much needed comic relief. Sadly both actors are hugely let down by a poorly executed screenplay.
Overall, Breakthrough might appeal to audiences across the pond with its schmaltzy representation of faith, but it will have a big job on its hands convincing more pragmatic audiences over here.