There have been a great many good and bad films on the ups and downs of a life in pursuit of athletic dreams. Training, working hard and regimenting everything all in the name of winning has become a familiar staple for sports flicks. The new movie "Backwards" knows these story conventions all too well and serves up a healthy helping of the cinematic safe stuff we’ve seen many times before with the exception of one thing – Sarah Megan Thomas.
Abigail Brooks is a gal who has spent her lifetime in pursuit of a single focused dream – to win an Olympic Gold Medal for rowing. She has even gone as far as being the alternate in a previous year, but is determined to be at the helm this time around. But even after winning a qualifying race against a younger competitor for the slot, her coach has other plans and names her an alternate once again. Defeated, she quits and heads back home to experience the things she’s missed out on and ultimately to decide what’s important.
There’s more exposition in this one – like taking a job as a coach for James Van Der Beek to train a couple of young rowing hopefuls - but again it’s all known territory. What does elevate "Backwards" from merely being afterschool special material is lead gal Thomas as the magnetic Abigail. Everything about her screams authentic – from her on screen sports spirit to her awkwardness in matters of love. It’s a rare enigmatic performance that’s much better then the film that surrounds it and kept me going through all the corny and recognizably bittersweet moments. There is some stunt casting like Van Der Beek as her old flame, Margaret Colin as her sassy mom and even Glenn “24” Morshower as her sullen coach, but all seem like standard cardboard cutouts next to the inspired choice of Thomas.
Reading more about this film it seems that Thomas wrote the screenplay for "Backwards" infusing some of her own personal experience and from her work within it certainly shows. I just wish that the rest of the movie that encompassed her original performance was not so generic and common. Yes, the engaging look and feel of Thomas does successfully row a heavy dose of winning, but in the realm of the movie as a whole, "Backwards" is a boat without paddles.
"BACKWARDS" OPENS IN SELECT THEATERS SEPT. 18 FROM DADA FILMS.