"GOD BLESS THE BROKEN ROAD" — 3 stars — Lindsay Pulsipher, Andrew Walker, Makenzie Moss, Gary Grubbs; PG (for thematic elements and some combat action); in general release
“God Bless the Broken Road” is a little rough around the turns, but a poignant message gets it across the finish line just in time.
Harold Cronk’s film follows the story of a young mother as she struggles to get by in the aftermath of her husband’s untimely death.
Life is just about perfect for Amber (played by Utah-native Lindsay Pulsipher). Her husband Darren (Liam Matthews) is serving his country in Afghanistan, she’s got a preteen daughter Bree (Makenzie Moss), and when she’s not enjoying a beautiful home in Clarksville, Kentucky, she’s the guitar-playing siren of her local church choir.
Then Darren is killed in action, and her world slowly unravels around her. Two years after her husband’s death, Amber is working extra shifts at a local diner to try to fend off foreclosure. Darren’s mother, Patti (Kim Delaney), is constantly after her about what she thinks is the best way to care for Bree, and Amber hasn’t been to church — or to choir practice — for months.
Amber isn’t the only one who is facing hard times. Cody Jackson (Andrew W. Walker) was an up-and-coming stock car racing star before a headstrong attitude led to a nightmare of a crash. Now he’s been sent down to the minors to get some coaching on the fundamentals from a Clarksville racer named Joe Carter (Gary Grubbs).
It isn’t long before Amber catches Cody’s attention — Joe signs him up as a youth advisor and Cody winds up helping Bree and some other kids build their own go-karts — but after some pensive dating, Amber and Cody’s respective situations go from bad to worse.
It turns out a serious crash isn’t enough to get Cody to change his ways, but Amber’s journey is the one that really earns the film’s title. We watch as she fights to keep her home, selling off family heirlooms and taking out ill-advised 38-percent loans at the local pawnshop to keep her head above the financial waters.
All the while she pushes back against her mother-in-law, as well as the idea of returning to church, choosing to get angrier and angrier at God while the night gets darker, unable to understand why he’d take Darren away from her and her daughter.
Wisely, “Broken Road’s” story arc has more to do with Amber’s personal faith than whether she’s going to get together with Cody, and though at times you might wonder if Cronk has pushed things a little too far on the melodrama scale, the film should be relatable to most anyone who has faced a crisis of faith, or has just been challenged in a period of difficult trial.
It’s a nice change-up from the more defensive posture of Cronk’s work in the “God’s Not Dead” films, though “Broken Road” does get a bit heavy-handed in its efforts to get the audience tears rolling, especially toward its emotional finale.
Along with some sketchy supporting performances, the heavy-handedness may prove a distraction from the genuine message at the heart of Cronk's film. But for audiences in need of a boost, "God Bless the Broken Road" might offer just enough of a payoff to justify a few rough patches.
"God Bless the Broken Road" is rated PG for thematic elements and some combat action; running time: 111 minutes.