Backwards (2012)

Starring: Sarah Megan Thomas. James Van Der Beek, Glenn Morshower, Margaret Colin, Wynn Everett, Alexandra Metz, Meredith Apfelbaum, David Alan Basche, Ellis Walding, Alysia Reiner, Brea Bee.

Director: Ben Hickernell
Rating: PG (for some mild language.)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Date: September 21, 2012
Home Video Release Date: TBD
North American Box Office: $61 Thousand

13th Night Productions and Required Viewing/Dada Films.

Written by: Sarah Megan Thomas.
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1/2 (out of 5 stars)

Backwards takes a formulaic story concept and tries to present it in a different light.  A woman, training most of her life for a spot on the Woman’s Olympic rowing team, struggles to reset her life at the age of 30, after being rejected a second time for the squad.  In addition to the emotional distress this rejection causes for her, part of the reconfiguring and reevaluation of her life has to deal with a previous boyfriend who has resurfaced.  The implementation of this love story is where Backwards goes sideways and loses its heart and uniqueness, becoming nothing more than the most annoying type of romantic film – the one where the woman sacrifices her dreams and opportunities because the love of a man is just too irresistible to pass up.

I am conflicted in condemning Backwards because it is a passion project for Sarah Megan Thomas, who draws on her past experiences to write, produce, and star in this film.  My sense is that she could not get the story made, so she worked really hard to bring this to the screen.  In that way, Backwards is a success and Thomas’ unrelenting efforts to make her film should be heralded.  Director Ben Hickernell ‘s third feature also looks good, employing some wonderful cinematography and decent pacing.  Sadly though, Hickernell and Thomas fail to restrain themselves from so many elements that make this a really hard tryer, but ultimately a disappointment.  Frankly, a little like Thomas’ character herself.

Thomas stars as Abi Brooks, who at 30, has just been denied that second opportunity to row for her country.  With some tough love from her coach (Glenn Morshower) and no other options, Abi packs up and returns home where she is immediately under the microscope of her overbearing, if not well-intentioned mother (Margaret Colins).  Also on the horizon is Geoff (James Van Der Beek), Abi’s long-distant first love of her life, who she was together with for years, until things fell apart.  Dismissive of the notion of still being in love with Geoff, Abi nonetheless is smitten with him once again and accepts his offer to mentor and coach to young rowing hopefuls (Alexandra Metz, Meredith Apfelbaum).  The young girls are Geoff’s best students and Abi finds that they may have U.S. National Team potential, but as she works with them, retaining a resurgent connection to Geoff as well, opportunities may arrive which leave Abi having to ponder her life’s direction.

Overall, Backwards is about on par with a cable movie, with a slightly crisper look and bigger budget.  Ben Hickernell’s command of the story is fine and all the performances are good, even Thomas, who has an unpolished, raw but real feel about her.  She strikes good chemistry with Van Der Beek, and while he is forced to do the heavy lifting in a lot of their scenes together, Van Der Beek remains likable and coasts comfortably through the film.

All of the issues pertain to Sarah Megan Thomas’ screenplay, which is a bit thin to begin with.  However, when she implements her love story vis a vis the journey of the rowers she is mentoring, you can see everything coming from a mile away.  It is a shame because sometimes formulaic films can find some goodwill along the way to slide through the cliches and contrived moments that derail lesser films.  Unfortunately, Backwards falters mightily when Abi gets an opportunity that may jeopardize her relationship with the rowers and Geoff and makes disappointing decision after disappointing decision in trying to complete its journey.

Sad to say, Backwards cannot finish the race.  When the film moves to the end, the thin story and one-note characters stand out.  As someone who initially agreed with Abi’s choice, then disagreed strongly with the ultimate course the film takes, there was just too much I could not get past to recommend the film.  Backwards will appeal to viewers of films and shows found on stations like ABC Family, Disney, Nickelodeon, and maybe even Lifetime, as the film stays family friendly throughout.  With a frustrating message that calls into question some of the major traits and characteristics that made Abi unique and had us rooting for her, Backwards gives up and essentially embraces the annoying elements of the films that undoubtedly gave Thomas some of the inspiration to tell her story.  In doing so, Thomas makes an unfortunate decision, much like her character ultimately does as well.

SHOULD I SEE IT?
YES
  • Works fine as a family film, a light romantic sports-infused drama with a few scatological words tossed around.
  • It is easy to like Sarah Megan Thomas and see her hard work and persistence punctuate every frame and moment of the film.
  • The film looks terrific and sequences involving rowing and training work quite well.
NO
  • Why, why, WHY does Sarah Megan Thomas’ screenplay take the cheapest and mist unsatisfying route and derail much of the goodwill generated within the first 70 minutes or so?
  • This is akin to the quality of film you would found on the ABC Family network – geared towards tweens and teenagers, innocuous enough for the whole family to watch.  Some of the dialogue and situations feel like a TV-movie, which kills some of the credibility.
  • Although I am not a rower, competitively or otherwise, much of this just feels implausible.