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The faith-based blockbuster continues to thrive, and it shows no signs of slowing any time soon. While distributor and studio PureFlix seems to have the corner on that particular market, that hasn’t stopped major studios from dipping their toes into these holy waters. An example of such a feat is the Fox backed and Disney released film Breakthrough, which tells a true story of a community putting their faith in a higher power to save one of its own. The results are a mixed bag, as fans of this particular genre will probably enjoy it, while those sitting on the sidelines may be checking their watches.
Drawn from the true live events lived by Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz) and the community of St. Charles, Missouri, Breakthrough dramatizes Smith’s fight to save her son through the power of faith. After being submerged in a frozen lake for about 15 minutes, Joyce’s adopted son John is recovered and put into a medically-induced coma, and is left with very little chance of returning to his normal life. Through a journey of faith and patience, Joyce eventually sees herself tested in the most dire of circumstances, as she and her community wait for a miracle.
The best part about Breakthrough is that faithful Christians looking for an Easter holiday hit at the movies will not be disappointed with the message at all. There’s a strong take on faith and personal growth that will appeal to those who turn to uplifting stories such as that of the Smith family for entertainment. Running at just under two hours, it’s definitely a short film that can be slotted into a busy holiday weekend, as well.
However, for the casual moviegoer - particularly those who don't really practice any faith - Breakthrough feels longer than it should it should be. The bottom line: Roxann Dawson’s film is better put together than a vast majority of the faith-based blockbusters out there, but the film’s story still leaves a lot to be desired. While there’s an undercurrent of various figures in this film’s cast questioning and eventually validating their faith, the main thrust of Breakthrough is Chrissy Metz’s performance as Joyce; and while the performance from Metz is good, the story itself is lukewarm.
It’s good, because Metz is a consummate professional who knows how to hone in on the emotions of a scene, and mine them for what they’re worth. Even if you question the material given to cast of this movie, you can’t question their performances. The entire cast puts in the restraint and conviction needed to prevent Breakthrough from veering too far off course, but Breakthrough still veers into being emotionally manipulative.
Which brings us to the worse aspects when it comes to the story’s focus on Joyce for the majority of Breakthrough’s narrative. Most of her story in the film is made of moments where she shouts down anyone who brings a negative word to the table, and chastises any and every medical professional for seemingly not doing enough to save her son. While this is eventually addressed and resolved in the film, it makes it hard to root for this character, even with her son’s life on the line. It’s a very human performance, but the story could have handled this conflict a little better if it had either toned down Joyce’s combativeness, or addressed it consistently throughout the film. For what it’s worth, Chrissy Metz, and the cast that supports her through the film, handle the material with ease and restraint. This, in turn, makes the best out of what the script gave them. It's just may not be enough to save the whole story.
Breakthrough is a film that should play fairly well to its intended audience, but those who are not part of the usual crowd for a faith-based blockbuster are going to be left rather cold. The faithful audience that flocks to the films of the PureFlix catalog are sure to enjoy this film, as well as those who enjoy more moderately aimed but still faith-based film products. Anyone else is going to need a miracle to sit through this film though, as Breakthrough ultimately is a very basic, middle-of-the-road affair.