By John Hanlon
Hitting theaters a few days before Easter, the new drama Breakthrough tells the story of a miraculous event. In 2015, a 14-year-old boy fell through the frozen façade of a Missouri lake and nearly lost everything. When he was pulled out of the ice and brought to the hospital, few people thought he would recover.
Even the doctors at the local hospital gave up on the young man when everything looked grim. His mother Joyce didn’t give up on her adopted son though and her journey through this seemingly-tragic situation was chronicled in her book. The new film captures this powerful story.
When the story first begins, John (Marcel Ruiz) is a rebellious teenager. Joyce (Chrissy Metz), his mother, struggles to keep him focused but John’s more interested in sports and his friends than anything else. John’s father Brian (Josh Lucas) acts more like a friend than a parent though, creating a larger distance between John and the strict Joyce.
After the tragic incident at a lake though, John nearly-lifeless body is pulled out of the frozen water. He’s admitted to the hospital showing few scenes of life. When Joyce arrives at the hospital, she’s sent into his exam room to say goodbye to her child. What happens next is the miraculous part.
John, a patient that the doctors had totally given up on, begins to show signs of life after his mother prays fervently for his recovery.
The film focuses on that faith and how, despite all odds, John’s fortunes begin to change.
The film’s message about the power of faith and prayer is undeniable. What’s great about the story though is that gives Joyce a three-dimensional personality. Joyce’s faith is clear and unmistakable. However, her flaws are obvious as well. She can be condescending and critical of those around her and some of her greatest critiques are reserved for the well-meaning but arrogant pastor Jason Noble (Topher Grace).
Metz, well-known for her work on This is Us, does some incredible work in the lead role here. Her strong personality appears often here and she sharply criticizes anyone who thinks-- like most of the doctors do-- that John may not recover. In these scenes, she’s abrasive, tough and even belligerent. However, this anger helps set the stage for the latter half of the film. As John’s crisis continues, Joyce begins to realize her lack of humility (“Our son wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for me,” she says in one stunning moment) and her own shortcomings.
Breakthrough features a strong religious message about the value of prayer and that element of the story works well. The drama does more than that though. It presents some serious questions about the grieving process and how people find different ways to suffer through unconscionable situations. Some characters here find solace in prayer while others look towards each other for consolation.
There’s great value in coming together in prayer and there’s also great value in humility and finding a level of understanding with other people, who may not deal with trauma the same way we wish. That’s one of the strengths of this drama.