Review by Sean Boelman
Directed by Steven E. Mallorca and John Bernardo, the new documentary A Peloton of One may have one of the most inspirational stories to hit the screen in recent memory. And even though Mallorca and Bernardo’s approach threatens to undermine the narrative, the power of its subject’s story really shines through.
The film follows a survivor of childhood sexual abuse as he sets out to ride his bicycle from Chicago to New York in an attempt to raise awareness of the issue. This is an undeniably interesting and uplifting story, but there is a lot more going on here than just a man setting out on an extraordinary trek.
Arguably the more fascinating portion of the movie deals with the subject, Dave Ohlmuller, struggling to come to terms with his abuse. The film’s title refers to not only his literal solo bicycle ride, but also his personal journey to understand his emotions and feelings. It’s rare that documentaries get this close and personal to their subject’s struggle as it happens.
That said, a big part of the emotional arc is the subject realizing that he is not alone in his quest and that he needs a support system to back him up, even if he doesn’t recognize that at first. This central metaphor of the bicycle trip may be a bit obvious, but it’s a wonderful and effective way of mirroring his internal discovery.
One of the more obvious issues with the movie is that it feels a bit uneven in terms of pacing. The bicycle footage is used more as a connector than anything else, filling the gaps between the more emotionally substantial portions of the film. However, this does result in the athletic aspects of the movie feeling rather rushed.
The film also features interviews with other survivors of sexual assault that Ohlmuller encounters over the course of his endeavor. These personal stories will have a strong emotional effect on the viewer and supplement Ohlmuller’s story in an impactful way. Some of the best scenes in the movie show Ohlmuller interacting with some of these other survivors, learning from each other.
On a technical level, the film is quite strong. Although these sequences are often underplayed in favor or the more topical portions, the biking shots here are absolutely gorgeous. As one would expect of a documentary following someone traveling the country on bicycle, there’s an obvious admiration for the natural world.
A Peloton of One is an important and interesting documentary in ways that one wouldn’t expect. While the story is a bit misleading, it’s a touching exploration of perseverance and dedication in the face of adversity.
A Peloton of One debuted at the online edition of the 2020 Greenwich International Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.