Saturday, 1 April 2017

Raising The Bar (2017) - Movie Review

It’s been a while since I covered one of these, and after my revelation with the David Stratton doco, I have a certain urge to check out some more Aussie cinema. As such, it’s once again time to look at an Aussie indie flick that, even knowing the low standards of my local cinema, shouldn’t be on the big screen. We’ve covered a few of these before, from the failed attempt at veiled education in Dinosaur Island to the ‘95% boring, 5% bloody insulting’ Love Is Now, and judging by my adjectives for them, you can guess how well they turned out. Hell, I moved house several months ago, meaning that the “local cinema” in question isn’t actually local to me anymore. Unfortunately, I just happened to be in the neighbourhood when this film was out, and quite honestly, I think I need a break from the over-publicized fair of Hollywood anyway. So, let’s leap right into this thing

The plot: Sixteen-year-old gymnast Kelly (Kelli Berglund [Okay, seriously, enough with the lazy character names already!]), a year after an incident cost her the gold medal in a competition, has moved from the United States to Australia with her mother (Peta Shannon). After finding new friends, and enemies, circumstances lead her to getting back on the bars when she joins her school’s gymnastics team. With tensions riding high, and her old team from the U.S. also flying over to compete, Kelly will have to prove to them all that she still has what it takes.

It’s an indie flick, which means that I should probably hold back on being too nasty on these actors since they don’t really have a reputation to bounce back with. However, I will say one thing: The accents for these actors may be natural, but holy hell, do they not sound it. Not only that, the acting across is honestly really damn stilted; even considering I actually recognise one of the actors here (from Power Rangers Ninja Storm, admittedly, but still), this is not looking too good. Still, I will admit that I have seen far worse. Berglund is okay as our focal point character, Lili Karamalikis as her best friend Nicola is bubbly to the point of frequent annoyance but still fits nicely alongside Berglund, Tess Fowler as the initial rival Jess fits the wide-fitting shoes of the rival easily enough, but also does well with the inevitable transition into being one of Kelly’s allies, and Emily Morris as Jess’ lackey Ashley likewise fills that basic framework as best as can be expected.

Something that I will always expect from films like this, as you can probably tell from my opening spiel, is that the production will in no way feel fitting for the big screen. Now, while the biggest offender I’ve seen so far is still Three Wise Cousins, this isn’t all that good either production-wise. This looks far less like a film fit for cinematic release and more like a commercial reel, featuring the kind of just-barely-adequate filmmaking that such a comparison implies. Director Clay Glen’s only other screen credit is as director in another gymnastics-centric film called A 2nd Chance, and while DOP Hugh Freytag did some work on international sensation The Babadook, the majority of his work is in television. Both of these are quite obvious upon looking at this thing, with embarrassingly static camera work and some of the wonkiest lighting arrangements I’ve seen in a theatrical release.

This is essentially a sports movie in a leotard; the IMDB tagline literally amounts to “Kelly wins, Kelly’s old team lost”. As such, it follows that formula really damn closely. Probably too closely, considering how not only the standard plot beats concerning the main character doubting themselves and so on are here in abundance, but they’re also repeated quite a few times to boot. When your film barely scrapes up a feature-length running time (minus credits) and you’re still resorting to padding this basic, maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board. We’re already dealing with a film that is all about teenaged girls in leotards; was it too much to ask to make this any less embarrassing to watch without a child in tow?

However, this is all coming from a far more analytical and nitpicky mindset than that which the film was likely intended for. Might as well attempt to see how this could appeal to the only other people likely to watch… and honestly, I’ve seen far worse. The usual notions of teamwork and self-confidence are paraded around in order to give this anaemic plot something worth reading into, but here they at least feel fitting for the intended demographic. A large amount of the film is dedicated to Kelly’s involvement in social media on not-Facebook, where she regularly sees her old team insulting her behind her back.
It ends up feeling like a PSA with how textbook its depiction of cyberbullying can get, but honestly, I can still see some merit here. The usual stereotyping involving how catty teenaged girls can be to each other, like all stereotypes, has some basis in reality and, for the age range this was intended for, it shows enough understanding to highlight the inherent dangers of it. It’s honestly weird seeing this not-ready-for-primetime feature have a better understanding about the Internet than Nerve or even Unfriended, but that’s the kind of feature we’re dealing with here.

All in all, considering the sheer nonsense that gets released under this banner, this is honestly not too bad. The acting can be rather hokey, the story is paper-thin and the production values range from passable to painfully awkward, but I can still see bits and pieces that could make this at least a useful watch for the more impressionable child audiences out there.

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