I was really looking forward to Breakthrough, the new faith-based film starring This Is Us star Chrissy Metz. But I was also a bit worried. Would Breakthrough preach to the choir, or would it attract and compel non-believers, too?
The film tracks a real-life miracle. In January 2015, 14-year-old John Smith (a vulnerable Marcel Ruiz) fell through the ice of a lake in St. Charles, Mo., and remained underwater for 15 minutes. He had no pulse when emergency workers pulled him from the freezing water or for nearly 45 minutes after. Only after his mother, Joyce (Metz), begged God to resurrect her son did his heart finally start again. Even more astonishing: young John walked out of the hospital three weeks later with no brain damage, totally recovered.
I knew, as a huge fan of Metz from her NBC show, that scads of fellow fans would turn up to see “Kate Pearson,” Metz’s character on Us. Would they also feel preached at or would they leave the theater with a seed planted by captivating storytelling and quality filmcraft?
I’m hopeful about the latter scenario. Even my cynical teenagers got into it, and that is saying something. “It wasn’t like so many Christian movies, where it’s ‘us’ versus ‘them,’” my son said. Good insight. This movie has an invitational heart, not a divisive one.
The real-life miracle aspect works for the movie; you can’t deny that this happened or dismiss it as religious magical thinking. Other elements add warmth and believability as well. Joyce’s young, hip, pastor, played winsomely by Topher Grace (That ’70s Show), is a shepherd in skinny jeans, walking with the family in their trauma, modeling how Jesus wants to walk with us through our trials. The film wisely focuses on the many contributions of the first responders and medical professionals in saving John’s life. Perhaps most importantly, the message that not everyone gets their miracle comes through loud and clear.
Shot vibrantly in Winnipeg (my hometown), Metz’s performance elevates the movie from good to inspiring. She renders Joyce Smith as a deeply relatable, human woman who is warm, gracious, lovely—and pigheaded, controlling, and judgmental. When crisis strikes, her social filters are sandblasted off and her carefully constructed world crumbles.
I thought about Joyce long after the movie was over, and other moviegoers will likely do the same. Her imperfect though powerful faith uplifts and inspires in an authentic, believable way. Breakthrough won’t win any major awards, but could it serve another purpose? Bilge Ebiri of The New York Times said it best: “You don’t have to believe in divine intervention to be moved by this story.” (20th Century Fox)