Breakthrough Parent Guide
A safe film that skates over the most interesting questions in the story and fails to break through to more compelling material.
Parent Movie Review
“You have a purpose. You are loved.” So Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz) repeatedly tells her moody 14-year-old son, John (Marcel Ruiz). Joyce is concerned about her increasingly uncommunicative teen and then the unthinkable happens – he falls through the lake ice and drowns. John is declared dead, Joyce prays, and John’s pulse miraculously returns. But he is hanging to life by a thread which may snap at any minute. Can John’s family, church, and wider community exercise their faith and call down a miracle from heaven?
There are some things this based-on-a-true-story film does well. Breakthrough has an earnest, multiracial cast, who, despite the fact that they sometimes seem to be reciting lines rather than living them, do so with real sincerity. And it is great to see a movie that casts a plus sized woman in a leading role: no plastic Barbie mom here. The movie also takes on the joys and trials of being part of a church congregation and portrays the petty conflicts that can arise when well-meaning people irritate each other as well as the wonderful acts of kindness and support that a faith community can provide. And the film is almost entirely free of objectionable content, unless viewers are squeamish about medical scenes involving blood or needles.
Unfortunately, Breakthrough also has some significant near misses. The first comes with Joyce’s journey of faith. Watching Joyce, viewers may be driven to wonder – as do her husband, Brian (Josh Lucas), and pastor (Topher Grace) – where the line is between steadfast faith and delusional determination. When Pastor Jason admits that he has doubts about the likelihood of John’s recovery, Brian confesses, “I believe in God. But maybe that only goes so far with something like this.” This leads to the most interesting questions in the film. Is Joyce faith-filled or irrational? Is her faith based in God’s will or her preferred outcome? Is Brian faithless or just realistic? And it’s a real disappointment that the script doesn’t go deeper here – it would be a far more compelling film if it did. The movie also looks past Joyce’s unyielding faith to peer into the brokenness of her own soul. And it’s these perspectives on Joyce – her faith and her brokenness – that should provide the heart of the film. Unfortunately, the movie’s biggest weakness is that Joyce’s story feels like a Sunday School film – carefully curated to cover the points in the lesson but too tidy and sanitized for real life. We see Joyce’s tears, but we don’t really feel her pain. And because her anguish doesn’t go deep enough, it is difficult to feel the cathartic power of the grace that comes into her life.
The movie also has another near miss, this time with the aftermath of John’s miraculous recovery. Too often, films like this don’t ask the hard question, “What about the people who don’t get the miracles they need?” Breakthrough raises the question…and then leaves it hanging. Not going deeper here is a real lost opportunity for this production and keeps it from moving beyond its formulaic box, where it could find greater power and resonance.
Criticisms aside, Breakthrough is the perfect film for Christians looking for a movie that coincides with their existing beliefs. Christians (or non-believers) who are grappling with feelings of divine abandonment, loss or doubt may feel that the movie isn’t able to break through their pain to provide the inspiration and comfort they seek.Directed by Roxann Dawson. Starring Chrissy Metz, Topher Grace, and Josh Lucas. Running time: 116 minutes. Theatrical release April 19, 2019. Updated April 17, 2019
Watch the trailer for Breakthrough
Rating & Content Info
Why is Breakthrough rated PG? Breakthrough is rated PG by the MPAA for thematic content including peril
Violence: Boys push and shove each other in a basketball game. There are moments of peril when boys fall through cracked lake ice. One boy drowns. There are medical scenes where involving cardioversion (delivering electric shots to the heart) on a teenager. The teen is also shown with a bloody injury, receiving injections, convulsing after a medication, and being intubated.
Sexual Content: None.
Profanity: Two minor curses, one smothered scatological expression and one term of deity are heard in this movie.
Alcohol / Drug Use: None.
Page last updated April 17, 2019
Breakthrough Parents' Guide
What do you think of how Joyce handled her son’s near-death experience and recovery? Do you agree with the way she puts her faith into action? Do you think she manages to balance faith in God with accepting His will?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
Todd Burpo’s memoir Heaven Is for Real tells the story of his son’s near-death experience and visions of heaven.
Miracles by C S Lewis, posits that a belief in miracles is essential for followers of Christ.
Readers looking for heartwarming accounts of the inexplicable will enjoy A Book of Miracles: 101 True Stories of Healing, Faith, Divine Intervention, and Answered Prayers. Authored by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and LeAnn Thieman, it’s part of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.
Related home video titles:
In Heaven Is for Real, a young buy survives a medical crisis, only to start sharing visions of heaven he saw while on the operating table.
Not everyone gets the miracle they want. In God Bless the Broken Road, military widow Amber Hill has to deal with her broken life and shattered faith when her husband is killed in Afghanistan.
In Shadowlands, beloved Christian author C S Lewis faces the death of his wife with love and faith.