Disney isn’t exactly a stranger to faith-based films, but they’re few and far between and the religious aspects never feel forced or overbearing (Sister Act, for example). Fox, on the other hand, has a longstanding tradition of religious films that include The Robe, The Bible: In the Beginning, and The Song of Bernadette. With the Fox acquisition, Disney inherited many of these films, including Breakthrough from Fox 2000 (R.I.P.).
Based on a true story, Breakthrough follows devout Christian Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz – This is Us) who is having a hard time connecting with her teenage son John and pushes back against the new pastor in town who is too hip for her tastes. When John falls through the ice while playing with friends on a lake, she refuses to take scientific probability for an answer and calls on her prayers to save her son. Her faith never wavers, but everyone else’s is put to the test.
What happened in real life is surely a miracle, with John Smith having been trapped underwater for 15-minutes and CPR having been administered for nearly 45-minutes. After the paramedics and doctors decided he was past the point of saving, Joyce prayed and suddenly his heartbeat returned. Doctors expected the boy to have serious mental and physical complications when coming out of his coma, but he quickly recovered and functioned without complications. None of this should come as a surprise to viewers as the trailers gave the entire plot away, even if you weren’t aware of the true source material.
The acting is all top notch, with Chrissy Metz proving herself capable of carrying an entire film. But one of the many problems is that you have two closed minded characters (Joyce and her son John) and you spend all of the first act having a hard time connecting to either of them. It’s a disastrous start and while the accident at the top of act 2 is shocking and sad, Chrissy’s character journey is limited to opening herself up to one person. You get a little bit of relationship building from her and her son with his response to her presence during his coma, but because he is asleep for much of the film, his sudden character change after the incident feels a little forced in the narrative.
The film makes a poor effort at answering the question of why God saved John and not the loved ones of other characters in the film. In the end, it sends a bad message to anyone whose prayers went unanswered. Because Chrissy is so unwavering in her faith, you may question the strength of your own. It would be unhealthy to place blame on yourself and the power of your own prayers if this film instils such feelings in you.
I found Breakthrough hard to connect with in large part because the religious aspects of it are aggressive. Joyce’s life is completely defined by her role in the church and her relationship with her husband and son, and not enough of the latter is shown in a positive way until the end. In other words, this film will be easily accessible if your social life is largely defined by your church. Otherwise, Breakthrough will have a hard time… breaking through… with you.
Outside of a fun soundtrack with an original song by Chrissy Metz, who has a phenomenal voice, Breakthrough is a bit of a disaster all around. You’ll feel like you just spent 2-hours being preached to and if you’re a regular church goer, you already get that once a week for a small donation to the collection plate. If you need to feel religiously inspired, I find that Fox’s The Sound of Music does a much better job of pairing religious aspects with entertainment.
I give Breakthrough 2 out of 5 Heidi Daus Hummingbird pins.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.