Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ben Hickernell's & Sarah Megan Thomas' BACKWARDS: Vanity, thy name is woman (with a pair of oars)

For a "vanity" production -- and I'm afraid there is no way around classifying this movie as anything but, since it is said to be based on the life of Sarah Megan Thomas and was written, produced and executive-produced by Ms Thomas, who also plays herself in the starring role -- BACKWARDS isn't half bad. It's competently acted, written and directed and is almost completely uninspired in any way. The Lifetime and Hallmark channels give us this sort of thing with thudding regularity. But it is certainly as watchable (lovely to look at and filled with pretty performers) as most anything else of this ilk.

Ms Thomas (above and on poster, top) plays Abigail Brooks, a young woman of almost thirty who has spent her life training for the Olympics in the women's rowing competition, who, one day, sees what looks like her final opportunity go down the drain. Living with her widowed mom (the always fine Margaret Colin, below), she spends some time licking her wounds before getting back to business and becoming a coach to some younger rowers.

This not-unattractive young woman does seem to have a "thing" for her coaches; she's romantically involved with her current assistant coach (we find out next to nothing about this, however) and appears to have had a fling, too, with her former coach (James Van Der Beek, below), who has suddenly come back into her life.

The story, simplicity itself, takes our heroine along a prescribed path (which may very well have been the way it went in her life), leading up to a fateful decision she must make, which will show us -- and her -- whether or not she is a caring or a selfish person. If you have seen a few movies in the genres of either the sports biography or the romantic drama, you'll have little trouble figuring out her decision before she does.

The most interesting scenes in the movie involves Abby's coaching of her two high-schoolers, and some of the scenes set on water are lovely to look at. Ms Thomas proves herself a capable enough actress; Van Der Beek is stalwart and hunky, as ever; and the two younger girls (newcomer Meredith Apfelbaum, above, front, and Alexandra Metz, rear) register strongly. Director Ben Hickernell (shown below), who last year gave us the very personal and moving Lebanon, PA, here seems simply to be doing the bidding of his star/writer/producer.

The biggest problem with Backwards is that everything in it seems near-generic and, plot-wise, achieved a tad too easily. The movie glides along pretty much as do the those rowers we see from a distance. As Abby herself tells the girls at one point, rowing may look easy, graceful and beautiful, but there's a lot of hard work behind it. Maybe, in terms of what our heroine is going through, and what this movie really needs, some of that hard work, in this case, should be experienced.

Backwards, from DADA Films with a running time of 89 minutes, opens tomorrow, Friday, September 21, in New York, Los Angeles and three Pennsylvania locations (Philadelphia, Bryn Mawn and Ambler), and will expand to several other cities in the week(s) to come.  You can see the entire currently-scheduled playdates by clicking here, and then clicking on SHOWTIMES and then on Theater Locations.  The movie will also be playing, starting Sept. 21, via VOD.

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