Review: Breakthrough (2019)

Director: Roxann Dawson
Screenwriter: Grant Nieporte
Starring: Chrissy Metz, Josh Lucas, Topher Grace, Mike Colter, Marcel Ruiz
Genres: Drama, Faith-Based
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic content including peril
Release Dates: 4/17/19 (Wide Theatrical); 7/2/19 (Disc/Streaming)
Where to Watch: HBO Now
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 62%

As an atheist aka non-believer, I wouldn’t say that I am the target demographic for this faith-focused, fact-based film starring Chrissy Metz, Josh Lucas, and Topher Grace. And, while I am a fan of Metz in particular and knew that she was talented enough to pull off the difficult role of the prayer-obsessed mother of an adopted son who gets into an accident with slim chances of survival, I wasn’t dying to see this movie.

But, when the film was announced as an Oscar nominee for Best Original Song (written by 10-time nominee Diane Warren and sung by Metz herself during the closing credits), I had one clear reason to watch it, as I make it a point to watch every single Oscar-nominated film (if possible).

There were definitely some moments in which I felt emotionally invested, and I will admit that I teared up a couple times, but nowhere near the barrage of crying from Metz (who is undeniably emotive). Breakthrough, directed by Roxann Dawson, is at its best when it doesn’t lean too heavily on religious themes, and yes, I am saying this as someone who doesn’t believe in God (and the film did nothing to change my beliefs), so my opinion is unfailingly biased.

I am not sure how many liberties with taken with this story, which is [crazily] true: apparently, this 14-year-old boy was on the brink of death (even the doctors had minimal hope) and thanks to the prayers of his mother, father (a somewhat decent Lucas), priest (a hip, slightly funny Grace), and the community, came back to life — this is not a spoiler, as you can tell from the trailer and from early on in the film that this will all end well.

The film has its share of cliches and dialogue so cringe-worthy that, were they spoken by a lesser cast — which also includes Mike Colter (CBS’ Evil) and Sam Trammell (True Blood) — would not have worked. Marcel Ruiz, who plays the adopted son, is perfectly fine, although he spends much of the movie unconscious/in a coma.

What the film does so smartly is set up the harried relationship between Metz’s mother and her adopted teenage son; he clearly has a lot of love and respect for her, but he is still finding his place in the world. This not-ideal relationship between the two, in turn, increases the dramatic impact.

Breakthrough ends exactly as you’d expect it to, with a few tears shed. But it ends too intensely on a religious note. My question is: was it really necessary to practically hit the audience over the head with faith? The target audience is, unlike me, religious, so the writers/filmmakers would indeed be preaching to the choir.


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