The faith-based cinema of today seems to be breaking into two paths in search of that audience.
There’s the angry victimhood/revenge Christianity, films that follow in the wake of the “Left Behind” movies — dogmatic and political — “God’s Not Dead,” “The Case for Christ,” “Unplanned,” etc.
And there are the movies that are less about dogma and more about what the songwriter called “the quiet faith of man (and woman) — “Soul Surfer,” “Miracles from Heaven” and the new medical miracle drama “Breakthrough” stick to that path.
It offers up a dysfunctional (whether they admit it or not) family, a schism within a Protestant church between traditionalists and a hip, Christian “worship band” and skinny-jeans-and-sneakers wearing preacher.
There’s more respect than love between married former missionaries Joyce (Metz) and Brian (Josh Lucas). Their adopted son acts-out and swears.
And all these conflicts are brought to a head when that kid, the slacking-on-his-schoolwork, pushing adoptive mom (Chrissy Metz of “This is Us”) away, ball-hogging basketball hot dog John (Marcel Ruiz) falls through Lake St. Louis on a winter’s day in suburban Missouri.
Three boys went under on that Martin Luther King Day. Only two came up.
The paramedic (Mike Colter) who fished him out was ready to give up looking.
The heroic emergency room team couldn’t get his cold corpse to spark a pulse.
But Mom, praying, weeping and shrieking at the Almighty to “Breathe life into John!” does what no drug or cardiac paddles can.
And when the specialist (Dennis Haysbert) he’s airlifted to bluntly expresses doubts that the kid, who hadn’t breathed for 20 minutes or more, will “survive the night,” Joyce won’t hear it. She fights for her kid the way you’d hope any parent would.
“I need you to go and be the best (doctor) for John. And just let God do the rest!”
She’s won’t tolerate “negativity” in John’s room by the other doctors and staff, or in the waiting room where classmates, family friends and church members gather.
And the one guy who gets that is that California punk preacher with the pricey haircut and hipster shoes that she’s been feuding with. Every word in that description fits Topher Grace (“That ’70s Show”) except for preacher.
But damned if he doesn’t pull it off. This is pastor as grief-counselor, rallying support for a family that’s kept him at arm’s length, accepting Joyce’s power-of-prayer game plan at face value and providing what faith is, at its most fundamental, supposed to provide — comfort.
Actress turned director (TV’s “House of Cards,” “The Americans”) Roxann Dawson balances the hospital room action with the impact finding the lost boy had on the faithless paramedic. There are beautiful moments that capture the quiet terror of death by drowning.
There’s probably too much effort to play up the “miracle” invoked here, even though the film’s short (72 hour) timeline tends to undercut anything supernatural.
The viewer can take the “truth” of this story with as many grains of salt as seems appropriate — a Christian family sending their son to a Christian school, a child treated at a Catholic hospital, the first “miracle” witnessed only by the mom, the second by Mom and her preacher.
It doesn’t mute the movie’s impact to shrug all that off to medical flukes and what we don’t still don’t know about the improved survival odds of drowning in ice cold water.
The marriage here gets only as much scrutiny as the movie can stand. Joyce is diabetic and Metz only plays her in a couple of notes — judgmental, bossy, a tad shrill.
Josh Lucas is too good an actor to play husband Brian as disconnected as he does (a tad effeminate, in a couple of scenes, which we never see from Lucas) by accident. There’s a casting mismatch on top of that that’s also distracting.
And “Breakthrough” runs on, past its climax — and begins with a “Please love our movie” message from the filmmakers (Steph Curry is a producer) and cast.
But all those quibbles don’t ruin the movie or spoil this story’s power to move.
Metz makes us feel a parent’s worst nightmare, and you’d have to be made of stone to not be moved by her moments of truth, leaning hard on her faith, reassured when it gets her through.
That makes “Breakthrough” a touchingly uplifting movie in a cinema — especially a faith-based cinema — that could really use one.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic content including peril
Cast: Chrissy Metz, Josh Lucas, Topher Grace, Marcel Ruiz and Dennis Haysbert
Credits:Directed by Roxann Dawson, script by Grant Nieporte. A 20th Century Fox release.
Running time: 1:58