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Soul Surfer

An upbeat bio-doc about a teen-age athlete undaunted by a tough blow

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In 2003, when Hawaiian Bethany Hamilton was only 13, a shark bit off her entire left arm. Remarkably, Bethany continued to pursue her dream of becoming a professional surfer. Her story is retold in Sean McNamara's sunny, inspirational bio-doc, with (a slightly older) AnnaSophia Robb portraying Bethany. (Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt play her surfer parents.) This is not a story of nuance -- the dialogue is strictly Lifetime movie, and a religious angle is fairly clunky. (In a better spiritual scene, when a gravely injured Bethany "goes to the light," she is travelling through a wave pipeline toward the sun.) But I give the film major props for its straightforward depiction of girl power. What Bethany achieves is singular, but without extraneous gilding or polemics, Surfer says all girls can be athletic, competitive, loyal, strong, heroic, themselves. (And with no tacked-on romance!) And do not miss the end credits, with footage of the real-life Bethany -- before and after the shark attack. Starts Fri., April 8.

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