Sunday, October 16, 2016

Raising the Bar: Movie Review

Funny and touching, but full of clichés.

Raising the Bar is a small, family-friendly gymnastics film that has “cute” written all over it. Over-achieving teen girl joins overly-ambitious teen girl on an under-achieving gymnastics club, and we have an underdog sports story. It has a very familiar plot with familiar characters but that shouldn’t stop their target audience, and their mothers, and their older sisters, and their younger sisters from enjoying it. 2016

Directed by: Clay Glen

Screenplay by: Clay Glen

Starring: Kelly Berglund, Lili Karamalikis, Tess Fowler and Jack Tomich

Kelly is an American gymnastics star who had a disappointing result at a championship meet, and then through a series of events not yet revealed, Kelly and her mother move to Australia. She starts her new school while wearing the wrong uniform and doing a very poor job of making new friends. But very, very quickly, Kelly and the audience are introduced to a small gymnastics club formed out of the school who want to make it to the national championships. Here Kelly does meet her new best friend, and her new crush/future boyfriend, and her new rival.

There are a lot of typical elements going on here: the leader of the gymnastics club, Jess (Tess Fowler), is pretty and very popular and she doesn’t like Kelly or her new friend Nicola (Lili Karamalikis). Kelly doesn’t even know if she wants to join the team but every non-evil girl in the popular clique wants her to because they’ve all seen how good she is. The evil girls try to undermine her, meanwhile the cute boy watches it all from the sidelines rooting her on. There’s also, of course, the underdogs competing in a sports championship as the main plot.

The film, however, handles all of the cliché storylines, well. There’s a good balance between the gymnastics competition, Kelly’s home life, Kelly’s struggles with the popular girls, and Kelly’s new potential boyfriend. Lead actress Kelli Berglund is charming in the role, and also gives Kelly a lot of relatable emotion. It’s very easy for the audience to know what she’s feeling, and feel what she’s feeling every step of the way.

Some of the acting by the adults was over-done and the narrative for the gymnastics announcers was too on-the-nose and unrealistic which can take the audience right out of the film, but Berglund and the other teenagers have such a natural chemistry that the right audience will easily stick with them. There’s an unfortunate lack of actual gymnastics in the film – while they do compete and practice a lot in the film, it’s mostly close-up shots of their faces or feet or hands, a lot less of the entire performance. I also could have done with less of the off-center bird’s-eye view of the performances which was weird and jarring.

Raising the Bar is a flawed film but it’s also very engaging and an easy and enjoyable watch for its target audience.

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