When he was 14, John Smith drowned in Lake Saint Louis and was dead for nearly an hour. First responders and hospital personnel performed CPR for more than 40 minutes to no avail. Then the youth’s mother, Joyce Smith, entered the room, praying loudly. Suddenly, there was a pulse, and Smith came around.
Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz) wants to connect with her adopted son John (Marcel Ruiz), but she can’t seem to break through the haze of school, sports and teenage angst. John calls his dad by his first name, doesn’t call his mother when he’s supposed to, and rebels in school. But when John falls through the ice on a halfway frozen river behind his friend’s house, he is clinically dead in the hospital, and his whole family’s worldview comes into question.
Representing the faith element in this based-on-a-true-story adaption is Pastor Jason Noble (Topher Grace), whose disregard for the way that the Smiths’ church used to operate (and his haircut) puts him in direct confrontation with Joyce several times. When John’s body is brought to the hospital, Jason is one of the first people to respond to the tragedy, and an unsteady collaboration of prayer and counseling unfolds inside of the hospital. The medical community, the faith community, and the community at large must wrestle with John’s state after he’s pulled out of the ice. No one expects him to live except for Joyce, and her faith is shaky at best.
In the cinematic adaptation, the focus is less on the miraculous nature of John’s more immediate recovery (he has a pulse after having been considered dead for longer than expected) with more emphasis put on the miracle God works in John, who impacts those around him. Whether it’s the emergency workers who rescue John, the medical staff who work on him at two different hospitals, his parents, or Jason, God’s work in John is miraculous, but it’s also the stone in the river that causes ripples of faith-giving grace.
The film raises big questions, like why does God save some and not others, and what are we supposed to be praying for anyway? Ultimately, the resolution is powerful, affirming the power of God and the beauty of community, in ways that differentiate the film from others to which it has been compared, like Heaven is Real or 60 Minutes in Heaven. This is a miracle for one family, but it’s a story of grace for the whole community, and as such, it merits the Dove-Approved Seal for All Ages.