If you’ve ever seen a sports movie or a Christian movie or any movie really, you’ve seen “Overcomer.”
But I’ll be damned if the latest film aimed at Evangelicals doesn’t work more often than not. Director Alex Kendrick certainly has his faults as a director, a writer and an actor, but he knows that clichés became cliché in the first place because they work, and he lets them do the heavy-lifting for him.
You can roll your eyes at the preaching, but if you don’t choke up during the final race as young Hannah Scott (Aryn Wright-Thompson) runs the course with her dying father coaching her from afar – Well, you are made of much stronger stuff than I am.
Scott is one of two key characters in this story- a fifteen-year old kleptomaniac with asthma being raised by her grandmother. She gets one last chance at redemption when she is given a chance to attend a Christian prep school overseen by principal Olivia Brooks (Priscilla Shirer, the daughter of megachurch pastor Tony Evans).
Kendrick plays the other key character: John Harrison, a basketball coach at the prep school who finds himself without a team once the majority of his students leave town following the closure of the local steel mill. Brooks assigns him to coach the cross-country team, which turns out to be only one student: Hannah Scott.
And no, there is absolutely no way that any self-respecting school board would keep a cross-country program with one student alive when they’re forced (we’re told) to cut teacher salaries by 20%. But you just have to accept that we’re living in Kendrick-land. The basics of reality need not apply.
The same goes for how Harrison literally stumbles upon another key character – a wise old black man who – wait for it- just happens to be Scott’s father.
So the script isn’t perfect by any stretch, but Kendrick is wise enough to keep the clichés coming along with a steady stream of jokes.
“Cross-county’s not even a real sport,” Harrison claims.
“That’s not fair,” Brooks says. “Come on, now. I have never seen your basketball players throwing up after a game.”
“Exactly,” Harrison replies. “I don’t want to see that. No one wants to see that.”
The filmmaking, like the script, is sturdy but unexceptional, and Kendrick still hasn’t found ways to make montages of people reading the Bible look interesting. However, the film does open with a pretty nifty drone shot that I found just as impressive as Martin Scorsese’s opening Steadicam shot in “The Irishman”. So that’s saying something.
The “actors” range from fair to middling – think community theater or Hallmark Christmas movies. Kendrick, who has nine acting roles under his belt, and Shirer, who has three, fare the best. Wright-Thompson is a charismatic first-time performer who has a future, both inside and outside of Kendrick-land.
Cameron Arnett, as Scott’s father, fares the worst and seems to frequently confuse emotion for constipation. Kendrick also needs to get past his nepotism when it comes to casting – There are no less than 12 Kendricks in the cast and not a single one can act.
Perhaps it’s time – six movies into his filmmaking career- that Kendrick outsource the acting and the writing to actual Hollywood professionals while continuing to develop his directorial skills. He has some real talent although it’s still pretty raw.
“Overcomer” (rated PG for thematic elements) is imperfect, but I imagine it works pretty well for its core religious audience. On occasion, it works just enough to engage those outside the flock as well, which makes it all the more frustrating when it falls victim to lazy writing and casting.
“We can make a movie, but only God can change the heart,” Kendrick said in an interview with Australia’s Eternity News. That may be true, but I can’t help but wish that Kendrick would give the big guy a little more to work with next time.
About the author
Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves. He can be reached at email@example.com.