Monday, October 1, 2012

Review: Fast Girls

Some of you may have read this entry, where I lament that one of the problems with liking a lot of British actors is that they do British movies, which tend to not play in the United States because of reasons.

Imagine my extreme excitement when I was online yesterday and discovered that Fast Girls, the very reason for the aforementioned post, is available on Netflix Watch Instantly (also on iTunes) for those of us in the States, a week before the DVD comes out in the UK.

It makes absolutely no sense to me, but I'm not about to complain.

Last night, after giggling for about five minutes at the prospect of finally getting to see this movie (which did, consequently, play in the Hicksville, NY, for exactly one week, so I was sadly unable to schlep out there to see it -- stupid job), I actually watched this movie. I will do my best to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but be warned, I may not succeed. 

In retrospect, this may be less a review and more of a general summary with some thoughts attached, but bear with me, I'm kind of new at this reviewing lark.

I found this movie to be, as I predicted in my earlier post, ridiculously awesome. I really enjoyed Bend It Like Beckham, and this film had much the same flair and energy -- a girl power movie that was mostly about girls being awesome and becoming friends, with, oh yeah, that pesky romance thing. It was fun and uplifting, and it made me want to take up running, except I can't run.

The movie is centered around Shania Andrews (Lenora Crichlow) and her struggle to make the UK national women's track team, a struggle made difficult both by her humble upbringing (she lacks for proper equipment and training grounds, and her coach is a shopkeeper) and the jealousy of her main rival, golden girl Lisa Temple (Lily James).

Side note: the Netflix description of the movie claims that Lisa and Shania have been competitors since childhood, but I saw no evidence of this. It would explain things a little better, but as it stands, Lisa apparently dislikes Shania because she beats her in the qualifying race at the beginning of the movie, which doesn't really matter because Lisa already has a spot on the team thanks to nepotism -- her father (Rupert Graves) basically runs it. On the one hand, this seems to make the character of Lisa seem extremely shallow and petty. On the other hand, I have both witnessed and experienced the kind of envy that comes from devoting your whole life to one particular pursuit to the point where it basically defines your identity, and then someone comes along seemingly out of nowhere and is better at it than you. It sucks, and it makes you want to hit things. Or people.

Throughout most of the film, Shania and Lisa cannot stand each other, and it leads to many problems when Tommy (Noel Clarke, who also wrote the screenplay) asks Shania to be a member of the 4x200m relay team. Lisa -- the anchor position -- does not agree with this at all, which is fine with Shania, because she doesn't do well with teams. She does join the team, it's kind of the point of the movie, and chaos ensues. There are moments, such as when a few of the members go out for drinks, where you can see that things might not be as bad as they seem. But whenever the team is competing -- be it at an exhibition meet in Barcelona or at the World Championships in the film's climax -- all hell breaks loose. Things of course work out nicely by the end, but I did feel that the conflict between Shania and Lisa was resolved too quickly.

The film also gave some focus to the different familial relationships, which I felt weren't developed well enough to deserve their own sideplot but nevertheless served what I believe to be their intended purpose -- to show the difference between Lisa and Shania. Lisa, daughter of a gold medalist, grew up in wealth and privilege. As I said before, she didn't need the qualifying race because she already had a spot on the team, and we can tell that she's been raised and groomed to be a track star like her father. Shania, conversely, sleeps on her aunt's couch but eventually ends up staying with her coach after her aunt kicks her out because of her sister's bad girl ways. Still, we shouldn't judge by appearances -- Lisa feels trapped by her father's win-or-else approach, while Shania's coach, Brian (Philip Davis), genuinely encourages her to do her best. The contrast helps us see that Lisa and Shania really aren't that different -- Lisa ignores her mother's quiet encouragement to concentrate on her father's all-or-nothing disapproval, and Shania can't hear her coach over her family's dismissive attitude.

And we mustn't forget the love, because what's a girl power movie without a love interest? (Answer: Brave.) Despite rules against fraternization between athletes and staff, Shania develops feelings for the team physio, Carl (Bradley James). Yet it turns out that Lisa is her rival here, as well. Bradley did well for his first film role, but like most of the sideplots, there could have been more development. Carl and Shania do have their moments, and I actually kind of appreciated that the romance was almost an afterthought -- yes, it's there and oh my god boys, but this isn't what distracts Shania, and the overall feel of the whole situation was more, "well, this would be nice, but really I just want to kick ass at the championships". It's a nice change from all of those movies which hide the idea that a woman is never truly complete without a man behind empowerment.

Overall, as I said, it was great fun. Enough comedy to balance out the angst, and even though no one is ever in real peril, I was on the edge of my seat for the final race. I like sports movies, and there aren't enough of them that are about female athletes. As much as I love Bull Durham and Miracle, I'd love it if there were more like A League of Their Own and Bend It Like Beckham. Is this one of the greatest films of all time? No. But I can almost guarantee that you'll enjoy damn near every second of it.

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