The true story of Bethany Hamilton, the sparkly blond teenage surfing champion from Hawaii who got her left arm bitten off by a tiger shark (but continued to surf), sounds almost too tailor-made for a triumph-of-the-human-spirit tearjerker. Considering that she maintained her sanity and spirit through her Christian faith — this dramatization of her story has been aimed, in no small part, at the evangelical market — the more cynical viewers out there may say, ”Not for me.” But Soul Surfer, while formulaic in design, is an authentic and heartfelt movie.
At first, you think you’re watching Jaws remade as a Miley Cyrus drama. But as Bethany recovers from her cataclysmic wound, AnnaSophia Robb’s performance comes to life. She gives Bethany’s belief in God a concrete depth and understanding. When Bethany gets up on that surfboard again, refusing to wear a prosthetic limb, her pluckiness hits home because we see that she’s out to impress no one in the world but herself. As her surfer-jock parents, Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt do likable things with their too-wholesome roles, and the surfing scenes borrow the techniques of Blue Crush to make the impossible look easy. Which is just what Bethany Hamilton did. B