Thursday, June 17, 2021

Tribeca with Abe: The Novice

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

The Novice
Directed by Lauren Hadaway
US Narrative Competition – Screening Information

Competitive sports can drive people to extraordinary lengths as they do everything in their power to excel, pushing themselves to dangerous limits in pursuit of success. Motivations for being the best can vary, and may be influenced by the experiences people have had growing up at home or in an educational or social setting. They can also be driven by a dependence on scholarship or fame as their only pathway to a prosperous future, and the decisions made as a result of such pressure can be disastrous and irreversible.

Alex Dall (Isabelle Fuhrman) begins her freshman year at college and joins the rowing team. Though she has no training, she is determined to become the top performer, meticulously training and working herself to the bone to beat out any of her fellow novices. Working harder than even her coach (Jonathan Cherry) advises, Alex closes herself off from the rest of the world to focus on winning, revealing a tremendous passion and resilience that will allow her to put everything else, including a burgeoning relationship with her TA, Dani (Dilone), second to triumphing over anyone who would dare stand in her way.

This film showcases the dark side of the pressure to succeed that inflicts so much pain and misery on those who work too hard and end up hurting themselves in the process. Part of that comes from the treatment of newcomers that often turns into harassment and hazing, which can only further deepen a need to show proof of talent and an ability to “toughen up” when pushed and tormented. Added to the way that Alex cannot accept anything short of perfection, it makes for a very volatile recipe that threatens not only Alex’s livelihood but that of those around her who may be adversely affected by her reckless choices.

Fuhrman, whose breakout role in “Orphan” came at a very young age, is formidable in this part, completely conveying the isolating passion that Alex feels and how she simply isn’t able to turn off that part of her, unwilling to listen to anyone who tells her that she’s done enough or that she’s going too far. Her performance alone is sufficient as a reason to see this film, which feeds off her energy and takes audiences on an involving, chilling ride that, like Alex, doesn’t let up even when it feels like it’s getting to be too much. It’s both a cautionary tale and a strong character study, one that travels a disturbing path in a film that feels both larger-than-life and all too realistic.


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