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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable is an inspirational documentary that chronicles how the young Hawaiian surfer (who was also the subject of the drama Soul Surfer) overcame a harrowing 2003 shark attack that cost her an arm and returned to the waves to become an international surfing competitor. Although there's no inappropriate content in the film, it does deal with some mature issues and discusses the shark attack and the personal/professional challenges that Hamilton faces. Expect occasional surfing slang ("gnarly" and the like) and affection between Hamilton and her husband. Parents and kids will have plenty to discuss after watching -- about determination, courage, gratitude, discipline, perseverance, the value of representation in the media, and the importance of encouragement and support. Because Hamilton and her circle of friends and family are so passionate about surfing, expect some younger viewers to gain an interest in the sport.
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What's the story?
BETHANY HAMILTON: UNSTOPPABLE is a biographical sports documentary about renowned surfer Bethany Hamilton, aka Soul Surfer, as she transitions from adolescence to adulthood and pursues her dream to surf competitively on the world's most famous waves, despite having only one arm. Although the film explores the harrowing events following the 2003 shark attack that took Hamilton's arm, its focus is on her life as a competitive surfer who travels the world on the international surfing circuit while also maintaining a busy schedule as a wife, mother, speaker, and public figure. In addition to interviews with Hamilton, her family, friends, coaches, and surfing experts, the film is about surfing in some of the world's most famous spots: Hawaii, Bali, Australia, and more.
Is it any good?
Poignant and inspiring, this documentary explores how Hamilton's deeply held faith, persistent optimism, and passion for surfing help her succeed against all odds. Hamilton is a fascinating figure: She doesn't dwell on the attack or her missing arm but instead single-mindedly believes that her new body can and will not only surf (which anyone familiar with Soul Surfer knows she can do) but also compete on a global scale. Through intensive, disciplined training, Hamilton -- with the unwavering support of her close-knit family; her husband, Adam; and various coaches -- prepares to tackle some of the world's most famous waves. While the movie's interview footage doesn't reveal anything too surprising (everyone genuinely seems to love and respect Hamilton), a couple of her friends do admit that they didn't think she could return to surfing competitively -- first because of her accident and then because she got married and had a baby in her early 20s. And the movie doesn't shy away from showing how Adam (and the rest of her family) have to step up and work hard to support Hamilton's efforts to fulfill her professional surfing and public-speaking obligations.
The action/surfing cinematography in Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable is thrilling and entertaining; you'll feel like you're in the water with Hamilton. Audiences will be awestruck by the different styles of waves in different famous surfing spots. Hamilton and her family are evangelical Christians, so the movie also has faith-based messages and themes. But whether viewers are churchgoers or not -- or whether they're managing their own physical challenges or not -- there's no denying that Hamilton is a motivational and remarkable athlete and individual.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable deals with personal danger and overcoming tragedy. What's the appeal of doing something that can be so dangerous?
How is faith portrayed in the movie? Do you think viewers have to be people of faith to appreciate the documentary?
What does the movie teach you about surfing? Does it make you want to try the sport? When does a hobby become a passion and even a career?
How is Hamilton's disability addressed in the movie? What makes her a role model -- both for those with disabilities and for those without? Why does representation matter?
- In theaters: July 12, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: October 15, 2019
- Cast: Bethany Hamilton
- Director: Aaron Lieber
- Studio: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, Great Girl Role Models
- Character strengths: Courage, Gratitude, Perseverance
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: March 4, 2020
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