Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Soul Surfer - Jane at the Movies, Part 2

As my avid movie-going daughter, Jane, approaches her 24th birthday, I wonder whether her cinematic tastes have changed and how her discrimination has developed over the years.

The other day we saw Soul Surfer together. This was Jane’s second viewing. She loves AnnaSophia Robb (The Bridge to Terebithia) and movies involving teenage girls, and she’s crazy about movies in which a sports team or an individual athlete overcomes a setback to win the big one. For competitive surfer Bethany Hamilton (Robb), that setback is a considerable one: her left arm is bitten off by a shark. (Jane knew just when to cover her eyes.) But Bethany Hamilton has incredible determination, extremely supportive parents (played by Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt), equally supportive siblings and friends, a lot of ability, and faith in God. Yes, sir, now I understood the title. I never thought that “soul” was meant in religious terms, and I had kept referring to it as Cool Surfer. How lapsed-Catholic of me!

I had had no clue that this movie is one of a growing number of movies in a Christian cinema genre for which I have seen previews now and then. In Soul Surfer the importance of God and faith are blatantly depicted with scenes including saying grace at meals; a church ceremony; religious songs; a Christian youth group that goes to Thailand to participate in tsunami; the youth group leader, played by Carrie Underwood, who encourages Bethany to have faith that good will come of her tragedy; and lots of praying during and after the shark attack.

But Jane only chuckled when I leaned over and whispered, “This is a religious movie.” Most likely, her young heart and innocence, in which her Down syndrome play a part, glossed over the propaganda while she focused on what she loves: bright, smiling teen friendships and uplifting athletic competition.

And, too, some of the bad acting did nothing to diminish her enjoyment. She loves Dennis Quaid, ubiquitous actor in both Disney family films (The Parent Trap) as well as sports movies (The Rookie). In fact, Quaid always does a likable, serviceable job. Despite overacting here, he establishes a believable presence as the sun-bronzed, muscular surfer dad, and he overacts a range of emotions. Hunt, on the other hand, spends the whole film with her long, bony face drawn in toneless worry, eyes blank, forehead knitted as though suffering from an eternal headache.

Even on my own I would have enjoyed this touching movie. The Hawaiian location shots are majestic, the surfing footage is awesome, and the shark attack/ rescue sequence is grippingly depicted. But with Jane I could participate fully in the emotional crescendo to which this movie builds. That’s what made Jane want to see the movie a second time: the glorious triumph of a teenage girl who overcomes a disability and comes from behind to achieve something great.

Nevertheless, now that Jane is nearly 24, she has become a discriminating viewer. She won’t see just anything. (I am more at fault in that respect than she is.) She waved her hand dismissively at the preview for Hop. She thinks the upcoming Smurfs is some kind of joke. And she’s not a fan of the current trend in adult-friendly animated features that incorporate allusions and inside jokes so that, supposedly, parents can enjoy a trip to the movies with the kiddies.

Jane turned down my invitation to see Despicable Me. She took me up on Tangled, and she loved it, both of us enjoying its charming, more classic treatment and lighter humor. I had to beg her to see Rango with me. We both enjoyed the more visual, Chaplinesque comedy of the opening scenes, but we didn’t much enjoy the rest of it. I felt its Chinatown parallels weighed it down ponderously; it was not a light and breezy Western parody. Its visual weirdness and all those allusions did nothing for Jane.

Jane is always faithful to the Disney Channel performers she adores. Vanessa Hudgens took us to Beastly, but Jane didn’t care to see it again. I thought it was an ill-conceived, poorly written, contrived failure. Jane enjoyed Hudgens, but I don’t think she found the movie very touching, even though the unlikely plot turns miraculously happy at the end. Mary-Kate Olsen is unsettlingly bizarre as a prep-school witch.

In the past year, Jane’s favorites have been Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I suffered through the former for Jane. (I’ve had enough of that Potter chap!) The latter sequel was an enjoyable surprise, starting in Battle of Britain England and ending up in magical Narnia.

We movie bloggers have our angles for arguing the benefits of film-going while some people consider it a waste of time and money. For Jane, I argue that movies have increased her verbal abilities tremendously. She has a great vocabulary and she’s a good writer, and in order to learn a language, you have to hear it before you speak it. I imagine she doesn’t always follow the dialogue. When she sees the Harry Potter movies multiple times, it’s not just because she loves Harry, Hermione, and Ron. Hell, I have trouble understanding all the hocus pocus they’re blathering about: Deathly Hallows and horcruxes and all that. Whatever the challenge, Jane knows the language of movies. A film’s magical capacity to tell a story with images alone is a language that Jane reads fluently. It’s just all that talking that makes it hard.

I would love to be able to jump inside Jane’s mind and see a movie as she sees it. Well, I guess sometimes I do. At the end of Soul Surfer, Jane turned to me to read my reaction as Bethany catches her last big wave. “She feels it,” Jane whispered, voicing Bethany’s father’s advice on how to predict a great wave. As Bethany rides the tube, and Jane smiled, I felt it too – all the personal triumph and perfect family unity that are part of this touching climactic moment. There was no way I could not feel it.


SFF said...

Very nice. Extremely sweet. I'm on vacation myself with my kids. You tell Jane we felt it as well. Lovely post. Best regards, Sff

Richard Bellamy said...

Thanks for the comment, Sci-Fi Fanatic. I love your sci-fi site and your enthusiasm for science fiction. I love it too - and I'd like to see a lot more sci-fi movies being made these days.