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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Breakthrough is a faith-based drama based on the true story of a teen boy's miraculous recovery from a near-fatal accident. Even though viewers can feel secure about the positive outcome, the peril is palpable for most of the film -- especially during a sequence in which three teens fall through thin ice into frigid water -- and may be too intense for young kids. (Heck, it could be too intense for many parents: A box of tissues is recommended.) The boy, who was adopted as a baby, struggles with feelings of rejection and identity; he continually describes himself as "unwanted," which could be triggering for families touched by adoption. The main characters are good people who are quite human, trying their best, persevering, learning, and evolving; they also learn and express gratitude and humility. With its faith-based message, the movie is most directly targeted at devout viewers, but given that the events really happened, the film's take on the power of prayer may leave some skeptics thinking twice. Executive-produced by NBA star Stephen Curry, the movie stars Chrissy Metz and Topher Grace.
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What's the story?
In BREAKTHROUGH, after their 14-year-old son John (Marcel Ruiz) falls through a frozen lake, rescuers and doctors tell Joyce (Chrissy Metz) and Brian Smith (Josh Lucas) that his heart has stopped, and there's nothing they can do. In her desperation, Joyce loudly prays over her son's body -- and, against all odds, his pulse begins again. From that point on, the Smiths turn to their community and pastor (Topher Grace) for support and trust in God that John will survive.
Is it any good?
This is how to make an evangelical faith-based film. From the first notes of Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk" in the opening scene, it's clear that Breakthrough is going to be a very different moviegoing experience than what many faith-based audiences are used to. That's because it reflects real American life, not just a Christian bubble: Teens talk about "hot" girls, tease each other in a way that feels like bullying, and even use a mild curse word. Setting that reality up makes it all the more affecting when tragedy strikes the Smith family -- and all the easier to believe the miracle that unfolds. It's also what gives Breakthrough the power to cross over to a mainstream audience (particularly with the NBA's Stephen Curry involved as a producer -- be ready to roll your eyes when characters go on and on about the Warriors game).
Devout Christians may feel discomfort at the secular inclusions; smartly, the movie addresses that conflict through Joyce's irritation with the new pastor from California and all of the "left coast" changes he brings to the Smiths' Missouri town -- like Christian rap and sermons incorporating The Bachelor. But that's real. And so are the main characters: Joyce is prickly, rigid, and not always kind; teen John has an attitude; dad Brian is sometimes weak; and pastor Jason can be a bit of a tool. They aren't always necessarily likable, but the film's honesty is what gives it power. More strength comes from Metz's sensational performance: She doesn't act like a mother whose son is hanging on to life by a thread, she lives it -- and her authenticity will affect every mother in the audience. In its unconventional approach, Breakthrough just might shatter the faith-based film glass ceiling.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Breakthrough's story. Do you think John's recovery is a miracle? Or do you think there's a medical explanation? Or could it be both? Do you think science and spirituality are mutually exclusive, or can they work together?
John's school assignment is to share his family history, but John doesn't know anything about his ancestors. What do you believe determines John's identity? What do you know about your own family history?
- In theaters: April 17, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: July 16, 2019
- Cast: Topher Grace, Chrissy Metz, Josh Lucas, Dennis Haysbert
- Director: Roxann Dawson
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Drama
- Character Strengths: Gratitude, Humility, Perseverance
- Run time: 116 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic content including peril
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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