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THE NOVICE: Lauren Hadaway displays expert level skill in her feature film directorial debut

IFC Films

Directed by Lauren Hadaway

Stars: Isabelle Fuhrman, Amy Forsyth, Dilone, Charlotte Ubben, and Jonathan Cherry

It’s a dangerous game when one pushes relentlessly to be the best at what they do. The dangerous rope that one walks when pushing themselves for greatness, is one so narrow that one wrong step teeters the individual into self destructive obsession. We’ve seen it done with various artists, but Hadaway gives us a fresh spin with the obsessed athlete. Alex (Isabelle Fuhrman) is a freshman that joins the rowing team- and the constant push for greatness in her academic pursuits is now rubbing off into her athletic ventures. Not only does Alex stretch herself thin by pushing for greatness in both academics and athletics, but sooner rather than later this obsession with being the best Novice on the row team, and more so pushing for a spot on the varsity squad becomes a near deadly pursuit of excellence.

A college freshman joins her university rowing team and undertakes an obsessive physical and psychological journey to make it to the top varsity boat, no matter what.

This dangerous obsession and pushing oneself to the inner limits becomes some of the most stressful cinematic moments of the year. We get the first class ticket to madness as Alex‘s body and mental health begins to completely crash the further along the process to the seat races goes. The physical damage is well apparent we can see the bruises, the cuts, the exhaustion, and the self infliction that Alex is putting herself through. It’s the mental damage that comes with this dangerous drive to succeed where one can truly see just how skilled Hadaway is as a director. The way that she masterfully moves the camera and the edit itself, shows just how exhausted our lead is. Everything feels stressful to the viewer because it’s well intended, we’re given the amount of glimmer needed to truly see just how destructive this is being on her personal self- her world, academics, and social life, all burning down in the name of a spot on the rowing team. Never seeming to blame our lead for what is happening, Hadaway rather highlights the dangerous of the competitive nature that is a part of the North American way of life- her support system in her team becomes less and less apparent, as they’re driven more and more into competing with one another. The coaching staff is there, but they’re there a limited amount for the most part because of the number of rowers and personalities that they are dealing with on the regular. We have created a hyper competitive society, where personalities such as Alex that thrive to succeed are pushed even harder than the rest because the standards for success are already set high for the norms

On a technical level, the skills are once again vastly displaced. We have some phenomenal shots of the rowing, and the various looks at Alex‘s face are absolutely stunning. Each shot has something to say, and it’s messaging is so so clear just from the way the camera is pointing. It’s assistance in setting up this claustrophobic tension that the viewer experiences is masterful, and we’re given such a unique perspective into the fall from obsession. Hadaways experience with working on sound for films comes into hand. The score is perfect, and the music choices work so well into setting up the atmosphere that was well intended. I wish I could’ve seen this one in a theatre because the sound mixing even just from my television sounded like something a bigger budget studio film would’ve churned out- it all works together in perfect harmony.

On an acting level, every single performance is well worth crediting and if I had an endless review I’d name them all. Isabelle Fuhrman is spectacular as our lead, the sheer amount of physical and emotional pressure that she put on herself as the lead is incredible and something that should be getting applauded even more as we get further and further into the award season. Her range and depth is phenomenal, the pain, anguish, and self destruction is so apparent on her face in one of the best performances of the year. Dilone is fantastic as the love interest character, her part in the film is so crucial as she helps ground our lead and be the calm within the inner storm as the story goes forward. While, Charlotte Ubben is the absolute scene stealer for myself and is one of the best supporting roles of the year. Her character Erin is the right blend of comedy and snark, while also being this extremely deep supporting character. Her monologues are memorable, and every single time she’s on the screen your eyes are captivated towards her character.

The Novice is now out for rent, and it’s well worth the cost at VOD. If you can see it in a theatre please do, and support an incredible group that worked on incredible storytelling.


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