Of the many ways for a child to almost die, being submerged in frigid water is one of the more survivable. The body conserves heat for the vital organs, and the cold slows oxygen depletion in the brain.
No one mentions this phenomenon in “Breakthrough,” a movie meant for viewers with a hankering for miracles. 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 thin ice and spends 15 minutes underwater.
The kid is John (Marcel Ruiz), a normal 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” follows the book’s scenario while adding some feel-good embroidery. The result won’t sway nonbelievers, but is mostly watchable and occasionally even moving.
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 birth parents. 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 sagely and 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.
The movie is stilted and self-conscious in its opening scenes, which include a cheesy aside in which John, a basketball player, mentions Golden State Warrior Steph Curry – who just happens to be one of the film’s producers. Things get better after John’s plunge, in large part because Metz passionately embodies Joyce’s mix of selfishness and selflessness.
Director Roxann Dawson makes the dramatic scenes plausible and not overly didactic. But she and screenwriter Grant Nieporte (whose “Seven Pounds” script was actually cornier than this one) allow themselves some scenes that might work better in a high school musical. At a crucial juncture, an impromptu choir masses outside the hospital to sing a gospel hymn.
The film offers many such moments of affirmation, but also an epilogue in which a woman demands to know why John was spared and her husband wasn’t. “Breakthrough” glibly peddles miracles but is honest enough to admit that not everybody gets one.