Review by Sean Boelman
Ned Farr’s 2006 lesbian romantic drama The Gymnast is certainly a product of its time with its well-meaning but heteronormative approach to the forbidden love trope. However, after fourteen years, he has returned to these characters with The Aerialist, a completely different type of film that is more effective, even if it doesn’t really have any purpose.
The movie takes place years after its predecessor, following gymnast Jane as she deals with growing older, healing from injuries, and competing with a young and cutthroat director who wants to end her career. It’s a pretty traditional backstage melodrama, and for the most part, it’s interesting even if it doesn’t reinvent the wheel.
One of the more disappointing things about the film is that it almost entirely abandons the storyline exploring the protagonist’s sexual identity. Although it did lead to some problems in the first movie, it’s a giant missed opportunity to have a sequel and not correct some of those missteps. Otherwise, this could’ve just been another gymnastics-themed starring vehicle for Farr’s once-wife Dreya Weber.
Apart from this, the protagonist has a mostly sympathetic arc. Although the topic of aging is nothing new to sports films, Farr’s script has relatively honest emotion, even when some of the plotting gets a bit far-fetched. On the other hand, the rest of the characters are completely underdeveloped and archetypal, especially the antagonist.
It’s clear that the main reason this movie was made was to give Weber another chance in the spotlight, but an under-the-radar sequel to a hidden indie film from the early 2000’s may not have been the best choice for visibility. Still, she does a great job in the role, acting circles around everyone else and proving that she needs a chance as a mainstream lead.
The movie also loses much of its steam heading into the third act. Part of what makes backstage drama so compelling is that it is constantly mounting until an explosive climax. Unfortunately, the conflict here peaks way too early, leaving the entire third act out in the cold and feeling rather uneventful.
On a technical level, it’s obvious that the film is very independent and has a noticeably low budget, and that can be a bit distracting at times. With a bit more money behind it, there could have been a lot more stylistic flair to the movie, especially in relation to the gymnastics and acrobatics scenes, which are extraordinarily choreographed.
The Aerialist is an entirely watchable drama, but one can’t help but feel like it easily could have been something more. Still, to revisit characters fourteen years later and improve upon them is an unusual feat.
The Aerialist is now available on Amazon Prime.