Written and directed by Mark Lewis, Jody, a lonely teenage girl, joins forces with Hannah, a disgraced track coach. Together, they spend a summer training for ‘The Pinnacle Games’, the biggest track and field competition on the East Coast. Starring: Yelena Friedman, Maggie Alexander, Scott Lewis, Josiah Schneider, Amanda Kristin Nichols, Tobin Cleary and Landan Cleary.
Rooting for the underdog is undoubtedly one of the most beloved film tropes, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a person achieve their full potential, especially if others have doubted them. While this film is a lot less about the ending and more about the journey, it does still capture that spirit. Bringing together Jody’s untapped potential, with Hannah’s wildly determined persona is a great match, that both feels new and also very familiar of characters and relationships that have come before it. There’s a certain level of corny that you’re always going to find with this kind of story and you can’t completely ignore it with this film but it never becomes overwhelming. It does try a little too hard to balance it out with a few bits of foul language but it isn’t hugely effective.
It has a few issues with the development of its characters particularly Jody and Tim, it feels unsure of what type of people it’s trying to make them into. The comedy works better in some parts than others, it can feel a little awkward at times but in a very human way, rather than overly forced. It may have also benefited from pulling back from the teen romance angle, it’s a very easy vein of the story to build so it really didn’t need the chunk of time that the film commits to it. It doesn’t help that the boyfriend character is somewhat problematic in his behaviour when you start to dive into it. However, overall the story does work well, the relationship between Jody and Hannah is built in a satisfying way and fitting for a story of long-distance running, it paces itself well.
It would have been extremely easy for Friedman in this role to come across as overly saccharine or cheesy but she actually manages to hold a vibrant energy and strong charisma. She has a bubbly personality that’s very easy to watch, she’s on the precipice of being annoyingly perky but never crosses that line thankfully. The great thing about Alexander’s performance as Hannah is the sincere vulnerability she brings, beneath the hard exterior, you can easily see the almost shy, insecure interior. Watching them bring these two very different personalities together is a satisfying clash of characters, each bringing out the best in one another. It would have been even better to spend even less time outside of these two and intensely focus on their relationship, which is the heart of this film.
Lewis’s direction is an interesting mix, there’s a few overly close or unnecessary shots but ignoring those moments, it’s actually very good. It hits a classic small-town note, it has a great colour to it, it easily brings across that very youthful and athletic energy, as well as the determination and motivation which its story holds. The editing is less focused, it feels incredibly lax and lets moments run far after they needed to, it could have pushed the film’s impact to move more sharply with a harsher hand on the edit.
Strider is a well paced, sweet drama with a big heart. It feels new yet familiar, hitting the typically satisfying points of a sports drama, audiences have come to expect. Friedman and Alexander are an enjoyable pair to watch, they build a very convincing friendship and manage to prevent the film from straying into overly cheesy territory. The film isn’t without its flaws but it has enough to offer for them not to spoil your enjoyment of Strider.