Review: 'Unsung Hero' captures spirit of faith and music without falling into faith-based tropes

Unsung Hero movie poster, 2023
Unsung Hero movie poster, 2023 | Lionsgate

Joel and Luke Smallbone, the Australian duo that make up the Grammy Award-winning group for King and Country, and their older sister, artist Rebecca St. James, are widely known in music circles. But their family’s backstory — and unlikely rise to fame — hasn’t been told in-depth and in all its glorious messiness, until now. 

“Unsung Hero,” co-directed by Joel Smallbone and Richard Ramsey and released by Kingdom Story Company and Candy Rock Entertainment, explores the remarkable journey of the Smallbone family as they relocate from Australia to America in search of new beginnings. 

After the collapse of his music business, David Smallbone, portrayed by a bespectacled Joel Smallbone, finds himself in a challenging position. Together with his pregnant wife, Helen (Daisy Betts) and their six children, they embark on a transcontinental journey, armed with little more than their luggage and a steadfast belief in their musical dreams.

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A wholesome, faith-based film — the company behind it also released “Jesus Revolution,” “I Can Only Imagine” and “Ordinary Angels,” among others — “Unsung Hero” focuses largely on the power of prayer, the necessity of a vibrant church community and the importance of family sticking together against all odds. 

“Your family isn’t in the way, they are the way,” James Smallbone, David’s father, reminds his son.

The film itself is a family affair; David and Helen Smallbone weighed in on the script, the parents and each of the seven Smallbone siblings make cameo appearances, and Joel's wife, Moriah, and Luke Smallbone, serve as executive producers of the film.

Throughout the film, matriarch Helen Smallbone is the clear “unsung hero” of the family, encouraging her oft-despondent husband and guiding her children, all of whom she homeschooled, in prayer as they attempt to adjust to a foreign environment. She creates a prayer wall for family members to post their prayers and remains steadfast, even when her husband is falling apart. 

When faced with financial uncertainty, the Smallbone children rake leaves and mow lawns to raise money. They rely on the kindness of those around them — especially their local church community — to survive; one particularly moving scene depicts the family’s first Thanksgiving meal, courtesy of their friends from church, Jed and Kay Albright (Lucas Black and Candace Cameron Bure, respectively). 

But “Unsung Hero” isn’t afraid to enter into the messy parts of the Smallbones’ story. Joel Smallbone previously told The Christian Post he didn’t want to make a “glory project” about his family: “We're not a perfect family,” he said. “There is no perfect family. We are not trying to portray a perfect family in this movie, and we're not trying to sing about it in music.”

David, grappling with feelings of unworthiness and shame after a series of professional failures, struggles to believe in God’s goodness and his own abilities. His pride makes him resistant to help from others, and he’s not always the best husband and father, distracted by the responsibilities before him.

Despite her overall resilience, Helen occasionally struggles, too; in one scene, she screams into a pillow after receiving bad news. 

Rebecca St. James' foray into the world of Christian music and the obstacles she faced are also a significant plot point in the film. The Christian music industry is no more charitable than the mainstream industry, a reality a teenage Rebecca and her father quickly discover as she faces rejection after rejection. 

But “Unsung Hero” is a story of success against all odds; it culminates with the emergence of for King and Country and Rebecca St. James, two award-winning artists, highlighting the transformative impact of the family's perseverance and faith. While portraying them as real, flawed people, the film takes care to honor David and Helen, who supported their children's dreams while setting an example of resilience and hope.

For contemporary Christian music lovers, "Unsung Hero" provides plenty of nods to artists of the late '80s and early '90s, including Stryper and Michael W. Smith (the film features a re-imagined version of "Place in the World" featuring for King and Country, along with Smith). One notable figure depicted in the film is Eddie DeGarmo of DeGarmo & Key, who played a pivotal role in Rebecca’s path to success (and urged her to adopt the moniker “St. James’ instead of “Smallbone.”) It was Rebecca’s success, the film acknowledges, that paved the way for her brothers’ music career.

Without falling into tropes common in the world of faith-based films, “Unsung Hero” effectively illustrates the enduring power of family ties and the redemptive strength of music and faith. It's a moving narrative that will resonate with audiences eager for stories of overcoming odds and rediscovering hope. 

“Unsung Hero” hits theaters on April 26.

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at:

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