By Jacob Sahms
Joyce Smith remembers hearing the news that her young son John had fallen through the icy lake in January 2015, and praying over him as he lay without a pulse in the local hospital’s operating room. Her heartfelt cries made a miraculous difference, as God restored John’s life and set in motion the events which are now the subject of the film Breakthrough from 20th Century Fox’s DeVon Franklin, starring Chrissy Metz, Josh Lucas, Topher Grace, Mike Colter, and Marcel Ruiz. Here, the Smiths share their story.
Looking back over the last four years, Smith sees the way that they’ve become famous with a sense of surreal amazement. She knows that God showed up in the midst of John’s experience and did something amazing, and recognizes that the miracle of John’s “resurrection” has given her family the ability to go and share God’s miracle because she sees it as God’s not hers or theirs. “We get to share God’s miracle story, and glorify God,” Smith proposed.
Of course, the film takes some cinematic liberties, condensing the arrival of the new pastor, Jason Noble (Grace), and showing conflict with the Smiths that wasn’t exactly the way it played out. Noble is someone Metz calls “like one of my kids,” someone she loves dearly, but the way the film portrays the Smith family is breathtaking to Smith.
“If the television isn’t on sports, I don’t watch it,” she explained. “When they told me Chrissy Metz was playing me, I had to look her up. But the sizzle reel with the voiceover made me think I couldn’t remember saying those things, and I didn’t understand how she’d gotten me down. Later, when we saw the scenes where Chrissy is driving John’s character to school, we ended up thinking DeVon had just followed us around without us knowing it.”
John, now eighteen, realizes that sharing his story and now seeing it at the movies has changed how he is perceived and how he perceives the world. “It’s a growing process, one that’s humbling,” he shared. “I didn’t know how to handle it at first, but people at school know me and it didn’t really affect me there. But I have people ask me questions, like why me, and I tell them I don’t know because I’m not God. I just have to be who I am.”
While John is now coaching basketball instead of playing it, and working on his dramatic theatrical career, he’s still a young man with a life that no one expected him to live in January 2015, except his mother. Joyce Smith shared how the scene where Dr. Garrett (Dennis Haybert) shared all of the medical things that were wrong with John is verbatim to a conversation that actually happened. “‘These are the things going on in John’s body,’” she remembers the physician saying. “Any one of those things should’ve killed John, and I had to remind myself that John was alive.”
“I keep saying that God knew this before it happened. He knew we would get here and we didn’t go looking for it. A friend told me that she dreamed that angels would come to the writers, inspiring them about what to write. And this movie is the result.”
In the process of watching John’s miraculous coming-back-to-life moment, the audience sees a transformation in Joyce that she says took place in August before the January accident. In the film, the audience sees Chrissy Metz as Smith prayerfully surrender her life to Jesus, unpacking years of hurt. While the film flips the order of events, putting the miracle first, Smith says that she had been hurt so badly early on that she had become a control freak to try and avoid being hurt again. But John’s accident reminded her that “there are things I just can’t control, and I have to surrender.”
Now, because the Smith family has surrendered to God and boldly proclaimed the glory of God through this miracle, audiences everywhere are responding to the story, whether they’re parents, children, or pastors. “God has been propelling this forward,” Smith says. “Everyone who sees the story encounters God in their own way, reminding us that everyone encounters God on God’s time.”
With Breakthrough, the cast, crew, and real-life Smith family hope that it will help others encounter God, to open up their lives to the miracles God will do and to encounter God in a real way.