Movie review: Faith-based 'Breakthrough' will move its intended audience

By Mark Jenkins
The Washington Post
Updated 4/18/2019 1:32 PM
  • Joyce (Chrissy Metz) prays for her son John (Marcel Ruiz) alongside Pastor Jason (Topher Grace) in "Breakthrough."

    Joyce (Chrissy Metz) prays for her son John (Marcel Ruiz) alongside Pastor Jason (Topher Grace) in "Breakthrough." Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

"Breakthrough" -- ★ ★

Of the many ways for a child to almost die, being submerged in frigid water is one of the more survivable.

No one mentions this in "Breakthrough." Based on an actual incident in 2015, the Christian drama presents divine intervention and a mother's love as what saved the life of a boy who accidentally breaks through thin ice and spends 15 minutes underwater.

The kid is John (Marcel Ruiz), a 14-year-old in suburban Missouri. Although he's doing well at his evangelical school, at home he spars with his mother, Joyce (Chrissy Metz of "This Is Us"). Yet when he's rushed to the hospital without a pulse, only Mom possesses the indomitable belief to pray him back to life.

That's the essence of the story told in "Breakthrough: The Miraculous Story of a Mother's Faith and Her Child's Resurrection," the 2017 book written by Joyce Smith with Ginger Kolbaba. "Breakthrough" won't sway nonbelievers, but is mostly watchable and occasionally even moving.

John (Marcel Ruiz) and his friends play before an accident changes his life in "Breakthrough."
John (Marcel Ruiz) and his friends play before an accident changes his life in "Breakthrough." - Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Before the ice cracks beneath John, the movie introduces its three major characters and sketches their flaws. Joyce is old-fashioned and judgmental, which leads to conflict with John and their new pastor, Jason (Topher Grace). John is withdrawing from his parents, as teenagers do, but the adopted boy's angry distance also reflects his lingering sense that he was betrayed by his birthparents. Jason, arrogant and trendy, offends Joyce by leading church services punctuated by pop-rock hymns and references to "The Bachelor."

Once the action shifts to the hospital, Joyce and Jason become grudging allies while John's father (Josh Lucas) recoils from the sight of his suffering son. Entering the story are the acclaimed Dr. Garrett (Dennis Haysbert), who warns wrongly that John will never be the same, and Tommy (Mike Colter), the firefighter who pulled the boy from the water. An atheist who becomes convinced that God instructed him how to rescue John, Tommy is the backup breakthrough.

Director Roxann Dawson's film offers many moments of affirmation, but also an epilogue in which a woman demands to know why John was spared and her husband wasn't. "Breakthrough" peddles miracles but is honest enough to admit that not everybody gets one.

• • •

Starring: Chrissy Metz, Josh Lucas, Topher Grace, Dennis Haysbert, Marcel Ruiz, Mike Colte

Directed by: Roxann Dawson

Other: A Twentieth Century Fox release. Rated PG. 116 minutes

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