Review by Dan Skip Allen
The Novice is the second film about rowing I've seen this year, with Heart of Champions, starring Michael Shannon, being the other. That said, this one has a more gritty and personal story, whereas the other one was more of a cookie-cutter sports film with a traditional structure to it.
The Novice focuses on a college-age woman (Isabelle Fuhrman) who tries out for the university rowing team. As per the title of the film, she's never really rowed before, so everything involved in the process is new to her. She has a lot to learn about this whole world of rowing and the pecking order involved with making the team and working out and what goes into preparing for each meeting.
She developed friendships with a member of the team in the same situation she's in as well as a student-teacher who's running her physics class. Talking to the coaches and asking what she needs to do to get where she wants is a big part of the film. Her struggle on and off the water is real. Physical ailments are very noticeable on her hands and her body. All of this takes a toll on her relationships with the coaches, teammates, and her friends. It is a very realistic portrayal of a student-athlete struggle
Lauren Hadaway, the writer-director, made some interesting choices with the way she chose to film the movie. It had a darker, more gritty style to it. Part of that is the weather. The film had a lot of rainy and windy conditions. This also led to the struggles of the characters and their performances in the film. Hadaway is primarily known as an editor and sound technician. This is her first foray into directing and writing, and she did an admirable job her first time out.
Sports films need to capture the audience by the activities in the film, rowing in the case of The Novice. The rowing seemed very real and grueling. The actors genuinely seemed exhausted at the rowing machines and in their boats. This looked and felt like they were really doing this strenuous activity. You wouldn't catch me within one foot of one of those machines or on one of their boats. This was a huge aspect of why this ill was authentic.
The Novice had relative newcomers in the leading and supporting roles. Isabelle Fuhrman is the real deal, though. She exudes confidence in everything she does in this film. The other actors were just there to support her. She went to all the depths this character needed her to go to to make the film feel real. Hadaway wrote and directed the heck out of this film. The look and feel of it were perfect additions to the story, direction, and acting. Sports fans and alike should seek out this film.
The Novice hits theaters and VOD on December 17.