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Dateworthy? “Breakthrough”

Last modified: July 18, 2019 mmBy Carl Kozlowski
Dateworthy? “Breakthrough”

Is “Breakthrough” worth a date night? Yes!

This true-life tale shares the incredible story of John Smith. He’s a 14-year-old boy whose mother’s prayers brought him back to life after being clinically dead for an hour. His amazing recovery from there serves as an inspirational miracle story for our times.

Easter weekend is the perfect time to go see it!

In 2015, a 14-year-old high school basketball star John Smith was running atop the ice of a lake near St. Louis. But tragedy struck when he fell through and disappeared underwater for fifteen minutes.  It was already surprising when a paramedic was able to locate and pull his freezing body out of the water. But the rescue crew considered John’s death certain.

Nonetheless, he was airlifted to a hospital. There, doctors engaged in an array of desperate measures for a full hour before declaring him dead. But moments later, Smith’s devoutly Christian mother burst into the room and prayed in a loudly demanding voice for God to bring John back to life.

Then, his heart started to beat again.

John made medical history for being revived after the longest period of cardiac failure ever recorded.

‘This Is Us’ star Chrissy Metz makes the leap to the big screen in the perfect kind of role


John’s resurrection was remarkable. Viewers witness the harrowing weeks that followed as John defied one set of odds after another to make a complete recovery. These events form the basis of the new film “Breakthrough.” The true-life tale has staked out a spot on Easter weekend.

The movie manages to rise above the usual treacle of other faith-based films. This is thanks to solid performances, some unexpectedly nuanced moments, and impressive direction by veteran TV director Roxane Dawson in her feature film debut.

The film stars Chrissy Metz of the NBC hit series “This Is Us” as Joyce Smith, John’s mother. She makes the transition to the big screen as a commanding presence. This film is a perfect fit for her. Millions of fans already enjoy seeing her front and center amid the high emotions found in her series.

“Breakthrough” begins by showing John as an outsider at his private Christian high school. He’s a native Guatemalan adopted into an overwhelmingly white American suburb. He goes through normal yet mild teenage rebellion. He also treats his adoptive parents with sullen silence. That’s when his tragic fall through the ice occurs.

Joyce’s impassioned prayers appear to bring John back to life. But John still has to fight to reclaim his functions.

His doctor (Dennis Haysbert) repeatedly warns Joyce and her husband Brian (Josh Lucas) that John will likely be trapped in a vegetative state for the rest of his life. But Joyce and her pastor (Topher Grace) lead ever-growing numbers of people praying for John. One level of recovery after another occurs, reinforcing Joyce’s faith while shaking the doubts of others.

“Breakthrough” preaches beyond the choir


A movie like “Breakthrough” gives away much of its story line right in the very fact of its premise. It does have a few too many prayer scenes. These bog down a 15 or 20 minute stretch in the middle of the film.

But director Dawson brings harrowing tension to John’s fall through the ice and the battle to save him. Later, Dawson uses inventive visuals to convey his inner battle for survival.

“Breakthrough” has a couple of interesting aspects to it beyond what’s on screen. It marks the first 20th Century Fox film to be released under that legendary studio’s new ownership under Disney after their recent mega-merger. The industry will be watching to see how things turn out at the box office for it amid the shakeups.

It also marks the first film by its lead producer DeVon Franklin at Fox after a lengthy and successful run producing faith-based films at Sony. The past 15 years or so since “Passion of the Christ” became a blockbuster have seen a growing number of Christian-themed films hit theaters. But most have been heavy-handed, treacly or downright incompetent (“God’s Not Dead”).

Franklin has succeeded by placing quality actors in the service of stories that manage to include some levels of nuance that make them appealing to audiences beyond the proverbial choir.

Those looking for a little inspiration on this Easter weekend will likely find it here.

The breakdown

Story: 8 out of 10

Performances: 9 out of 10

Emotions: 8 out of 10

Spiritual uplift: 10 out of 10

Overall: 9 out of 10


Carl Kozlowski is a Catholic comedian, film reviewer, and journalist who is also the founder and co-owner of the podcast station in Los Angeles. He reviews movies for the Catholic News Agency as well as the Christian site, but has also worked with secular outlets including the Pasadena Weekly, Chicago Tribune and Esquire. He has also produced and hosted comedy shows for the LA Catholic Archdiocese's charities and performed at some of the nation's top clubs and with top comics including Dane Cook and Dave Chappelle. He strives to find the way to work with both Christian and secular audiences in all his career paths.

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