By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
The trailer for Breakthrough has been ever-present at my local theater, although it hasn’t exactly gotten better with repetition. After the first watch my wife informed me “I know you’re going to have to review it, but I’m not watching it with you”. Indeed, the Pure Flix films have brand recognition.
Breakthrough is another one of those child illness/cured by prayer movies. You know the ones- the ones where prayer cures a 14 year old boy who fell through ice and was under water for 20-plus minutes, then whose dead body resisted all attempts to resuscitate it for 45 minutes, making him dead for over an hour, before his mother prayed and his pulse returned just as emergency paramedics were about to code him. And that’s just the start?
I mean, listen to the several medical professionals, including some of the finest doctors in the world- it’s a miracle. 20-plus minutes under water, 45 minutes dead in the emergency room, and yet here we have this film. I won’t spoil just how many more miracles are to come in this well-documented true story, as I myself didn’t quite know and my rational mind wouldn’t allow me to suspect the extent to which they happen and where John ends up in the end.
Breakthrough boasts plenty slick filmmaking from director Roxann Dawson and her whole team- this is no God’s Not Dead penny-pinching embarrasment, but rather a professionally produced Hollywood film. The cast delivers fine acting all around as well. Chrissy Metz is establishing a real tear-jerking niche playing strong middle-American women who persevere, and she’s great in this. Josh Lucas is surprising in a conflicted role and Topher Grace may be the MVP as a modern-minded pastor whose patience and understanding and overall faith bridge the clear gap between him and Joyce.
The strength of the film, though, is in how it depicts community and the love that creates it in times such as these. Films typically do a very poor job of trying to literalize God’s presence, and while this film does have a still, small voice at one point that doesn’t fare much better than most, it also smartly realizes that showing how God works on and through people is a much more effective and empathetic approach. Breakthrough isn’t interested in platitudes (although ‘thoughts and prayers does make a single unfortunate appearance), but rather grounds itself in character and character dynamics like any good film should if it wants to make you care about the tagline that sold it. And you’d have to have a heart of stone not to care about these characters as you leave the theater.
Finally, it doesn’t shy from the tough questions, be it the central one of “why this kid and not so many others who die every day” (an unanswerable one, obviously) or the one of whether Joyce’s imperiousness and controlling nature is actually helping or whether you can be a part of a miracle when you don’t believe in God and may not ever. Finally, Pure Flix demonstrates an interest in preaching beyond the choir.
I, too, hate Jason’s hair (and the real Jason’s hair about 5x more- wait for the credits). The new superchurch stuff I just can’t get on board with – I, too, grew up with the old hymns. A lot of filmgoers used to the heavy hand of the Pureflix-type modern Christian flicks will likely bristle at this and scenes like the protracted, full Pledge of Allegiance. This is most definitely a film with a particular perspective.
Film-wise, some of the dramatic underlining is, well, heavy, and there’s no doubt that the beginning 20-odd minutes before the accident is a bit rocky (that ‘he’s lit!’ line from the trailer is… rough), although it’s also surprisingly abrasive in establishing its characters’ faults and future conflicts. Stick through it.
Breakthough is a very affecting, effective account of a medical miracle and the family and community that prayed for the young boy who was given it.
Breakthrough (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for Dunkin Donuts (just assume all of the coffee and donuts are Dunkin)
Take a Drink: every Joyce refuses to give up
Take a Drink: for every dramatically delivered speech or pronouncement
Take a Drink: every time the dramatic delivery actually works on you
Do a Shot: for each miracle (there are at least three, but if you want to label a few more I won’t stop ya)
Do a Shot: when Executive Producer Steph Curry shows up.