PG...for DISRESPECTFUL CHILDREN! This movie is all about this kid...and he DOES NOT LISTEN TO HIS PARENTS! I am advocating for HARD R! There's actually a scene in here where a hip mom tries to relate to her kid, but he WON'T GET OFF HIS PHONE! The nerve! Listen, I'm pretty hard on specifically Christian cinema. This was difficult to get through, so I'm being pretty flippant. The worst thing in this movie is a kid falling through the ice and the scares that parents get when family is near death. Yeah, a well-deserved PG.
DIRECTOR: Roxann Dawson
Hey, B'Elanna Torres directed this! I don't understand how this movie exists shy of the very odd producer, Steph Curry. I have so many things that I want to say right now and they're all fighting for attention, so please bear with me. I am intensely Catholic. I'm proud of my faith. All that being said, I can't stand Christian cinema. There's a lot of reasons, some of which I'll probably end up discussing through the course of what I write here. But please realize that I'm rolling my eyes pretty hard. If you like Christian cinema, please, continue doing so. Don't let anyone tell you what you should and shouldn't like. I just don't find it very challenging. This is one big apology. Why did I watch it? It was literally the last Academy Award nominee that I could do before the Oscars that night. And it was for "Best Original Song." *sigh*
There's a line early in the movie where the protagonist is talking about the amazing basketball career of Steph Curry. Do you understand how much that drove me insane? One) Me and sports do not get along. My kids are signed up for track and now I lose the one day a week that I get to sleep in. We weren't fine before that, but that was an attack I wasn't ready for. Please don't relate everything to sports to talk to Middle America. Two) He's the producer of the film. I would rather he walked in the background of a scene, maybe someone named "Dr. Def Murray" or "Murray Stephenson", winked at the camera and kept walking than that conversation. It hurt my heart. But it's Steph Curry that probably brough attention to this film because it makes no sense the people who are involved in this movie.
I don't know much about Chrissy Metz or her politics. I hope that there's someone involved who honestly believes in this. Maybe I'm reading the room entirely wrong, but it feels like a lot of people are being paid big bucks to show up for this thing because the politics of their other stuff doesn't really align. Roxann Dawson directs a lot of stuff. It's a lot of stuff that I kind of like. I don't know her personally and it is completely unfair to put words in her mouth, but this feels a little paycheck-y for me. Josh Lucas is on the fence for me. He tends to do a lot of heartwarming drama, but he's also done some pretty dark things. The biggest question mark was Topher Grace in this movie. What is Topher Grace doing in this movie? He's done some pretty intense things. Now, I want to talk a lot about Topher Grace's performance. But I also want to stress that actors shouldn't be defined by one thing. It's just that I feel like Grace has had characters that have criticized conservatives. I know. There are nuances. If I was an actor, I would probably be doing the same thing that Grace is doing, but it just feels like he's taking the work for the money.
Which is why I want to look at Topher Grace in this movie. The last movie that I talked about Topher Grace in was BlacKkKlansman, which I absolutely adored him in. He plays David Duke (again, I can't stop making the connection that he's a leader that has devotion behind him from a conservative perspective). There's nothing really ironic about his performance as David Duke. He is clearly making fun of David Duke. There's no moment of respect that he has for the man, but he plays it to improve the film as a whole. Grace as Pastor Jason might sum up a lot of my feelings towards Breakthrough as a whole. Grace almost feels like he's mocking evangelical Christians with his performance. I know how casting works. When you want a neurotic hot dork, you cast Topher Grace. Or if you want Venom...kind of. Topher Grace fills that archetype really well. But bringing that neurotic dork to a pastor position is almost a distraction from the film.
The movie really needs the audience to understand that Jason is right. Jason is the distanced character. He is vulnerable and new. He's trying new things with his congregation and that's what ruffles Joyce so much. He acts as a foil to Joyce's character. If Joyce's strength is her faith and her weakness is her pride, Jason is the reminder of what someone could be when someone is both faithful and humble. But Grace doesn't really paint that picture. Instead of portraying the suffering servant, he's someone who is similar to his character from That '70s Show, only without the drugs and the sex. (Again, why I think that this is a paycheck more than anything.) I have a hard time sympathizing with Jason because Grace is portraying himself as someone who desperately wants to be liked. Now, this brings up a whole different situation that probably should be addressed.
As an actor, you want your character to be flawed. Grace is really riding that personal neurosis pretty hard. He wears his flaws on his sleeve. I kind of respect that. But Grace also doesn't realize what his role is to the greater picture. He has imbued his character with so much backstory that he draws attention from the main character. In an attempt to give his character depth, he's stealing scenes unjustifiably. He isn't a large part of the plot. There's a central throughline. Now, if Jason became a better pastor because of his relationship with Joyce, that makes sense. But Joyce isn't supposed to be the Ghost of Christmas Present for Jason. The story isn't, "Jason Finds His Footing". Rather, I think that just finding peace that he's doing the right thing is the only character growth he needs. Jason needs to be confident, yet humble. That's not what is going on here. Grace is justifying being on set by trying to find truth within his character, but he's not playing with the team as a whole. And I think it is because he really didn't want to be there.
And I wouldn't want to be there too. The movie brings up some really scary ideas about God that, to its credit, touches on. It doesn't really go deep, but I still think the problems are there, even if the film outright discusses these problems openly. God really feels like he's a hostage taker in this film. John Smith (apparently his actual name...unless he's the Doctor!) needs prayer. Now, I'm walking on thin ice here (pun intended), but it really feels like the movie is about God intentionally hurting a kid to bring a community together. I don't know why this is the movie that put me over the edge when it came to this theme. It's a common trope that I see in a lot of movies. But this time, it just focused on the importance of faith. It felt like if Joyce faltered for even a minute, John was going to die. The movie establishes this subtext behind everyone's choices. It makes Brian, John's father, look like a monster when he has doubts and prepares himself for John to die. Why is that something that's going on here?
Again, the movie really stresses that Brian is not the bad guy. I actually kind of respect its commentary on Joyce as a browbeating Christian. But it also doesn't not say that. Joyce, despite the fact that she's prideful and aggressive, is still the hero for not giving up. Her yells are double-edged. She comes across as brash, but ultimately, the movie says that is what saved her son. The Facebook groups set up (*eye roll*) and the community coming together is just uncomfortable. Are we only supposed to come together to find God when things go poorly? It's great that people found their faith, but it seems like a really comfortable community where faith was already cool. It's like Dawson and her team knew that they were treading on some pretty uncomfortable territory, but decided to plow through anyway, giving disclaimers as the movie continued on.
There is one story that I kind of liked. It's the one story that is kind of getting the C-plot for the movie and it's a bummer. Mike Colter's firefighter character is really interesting to me. I like the idea of God reaching out to an atheist through a minor miracle. I like that he doesn't come running to church immediately. I like that it is a little challenging to this life-changing moment. Faith is supposed to be hard. But this is the C-plot. We don't get a lot of Mike Colter. I think as a short story, it kind of works. But that's where the meat is. God taking a kid hostage is easy to understand the faith element. But questioning the small things is way more interesting to me. I like the journey of the cynic. But the other story really does nothing for me.
I hate that I'm so cynical about Christian films. It's just that the stakes seem planned out ahead of time. There's nothing there to really challenge me. If anything, it's just playing up to cultural bias. It's movies for people who already have faith. I don't like the cornball nature of them because nothing seems like it takes place out of a perfect little sphere of influence. If all the problems came from the suburbs, that would be one thing. But the Smith family seem to be fairly affluent and comfortable, and the tragedy is that they are dealing with tragedy. It's just so distant from things. Is it weird that I would have found it more compelling to have John Smith die and Joyce having to come to terms with that? But then that's just The Shack and that's also a problem.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.