Breakthrough: Moved by faith

Every film has an audience.

The good ones, the strange ones, the ones with big budgets, the ones shot on phones, even the downright unwatchable ones – to someone, those films matter.

What film critics often don’t give credence to, however, are how movies make the audience feel.

Technical merits can be thrown out the window if a film is entertaining enough. A heartwarming tale can still inspire regardless if an actor isn’t quite up to par.

A film’s flaws can sink its credibility with those who care about the minutea, but “Breakthrough” has bigger things on its mind than accolades.

Released just before the Easter weekend, “Breakthrough” follows the true story of a young adopted teen faced with little chance of survival after spending over 10 minutes submerged in a frozen lake.

Although the film is ostensibly about John Smith, the true heartbeat of “Breakthrough” is his mother Joyce, a fierce Christian woman whose prayers of healing and unquestioned faith provide a touchstone for audiences.

Chrissy Metz of TV’s “This Is Us” brings a fervent, almost aggressive energy to the screen as Joyce. It’s a forceful, impassioned performance seeping with melodrama that wouldn’t work in a strictly secular film.

Yet somehow, Metz is able to make a character that could easily be a caricature into someone devout Christians can easily identify with and try to see themselves in.

Coming off a vastly different, yet masterful performance in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” Topher Grace provides welcome counterbalance with a moderate tone as the Smiths’ pastor Jason.

Grace offers a natural warmth in his performance that soothes opposite Metz’s demonstrative work and the callous, scientific approach by the medical staff in the film.

The rest of the cast – led by Josh Lucas as Joyce’s estranged husband and Dennis Haysbert as the lead doctor – turn in relatively one-note efforts.

From a strictly technical perspective, “Breakthrough” is largely unappealing with director Roxann Dawson and screenwriter Grant Nieporte not really bringing much to the table.

The film struggles especially in terms of structure, with far too much of the two-hour feature establishing all the characters prior to the accident and far too little time spent on the events after the hospital.

Better filmmakers could make a more compelling narrative out of the film’s final 15 minutes than “Breakthrough” does in its initial 100 minutes.

But there’s more than enough to the unbelievably true story that gives Metz and Grace room to infuse a mediocre film with ample emotion and heart.

It’s nearly impossible to walk out of “Breakthrough” without feeling something.

A wonderful soundtrack that boasts everyone from Bruno Mars to Carrie Underwood to a gorgeous song from Taylor Mosby, “Oceans,” sung at a pivotal point in the film pretty much guarantees heart strings will be pulled

This is not a good film cinematically. Faith-based features rarely are.

That doesn’t matter here at all.

Somehow, “Breakthrough” is exceptionally captivating and affecting for its intended audience.

That makes it a great movie.

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