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Release Date: 05/31/24 [Cinemas]
Genre: Drama. Sport.

Studio: XYZ Films. 

[Seen for SXSW 2024]

"Riley is given the chance to cheer with the all-star squad, Thunderhawks. With a competition looming, Riley must navigate her crippling anxiety, her relationship with her girlfriend, and her desperate need for approval from her new coach." 


Backspot, directed by D.W. Waterson and co-written with Joanne Sarazen, is a film that aspires to blend elements from predecessors like WhiplashBlack Swan, and Foxcatcher. These films explore deep dedication and the sacrifices for art or success, driven by complex relationships with mentors who push boundaries, both personal and professional. However, Backspot never quite hits the mark in its routine due to not being able to decide really what it wants to be, therefore ending up being a film that does a lot of what those films it's taking from in half measures so it only goes about halfway in whatever direction it sets its sights on.


In the midst of this narrative uncertainty, the film introduces us to Eileen McNamara, a character whose complex layers are pivotal to the unfolding drama. Evan Rachel Wood is magnetic in every scene she appears, embodying Eileen with a charisma that captures the audience’s attention. Her authoritative presence significantly influences Riley, portrayed by Devery Jacobs, creating an undercurrent of unspoken, perhaps even sexual tension that remains tantalizingly ambiguous. This element, while adding intrigue, underscores the film’s indecisiveness about Eileen’s true motivations. Despite these striking interactions, the film, edited by D.W. Waterson, struggles with the consistency of her character's portrayal. Initially introduced as a formidable coach, Eileen is also shown to possess moments of kindness and vulnerability. Yet, this multifaceted depiction is marred by fluctuations, reflecting the filmmakers' reluctance to fully define her role. These inconsistencies in Eileen’s character, while not diminishing Wood's impactful performance, serve to highlight Backspot’s overall hesitancy in fleshing out its narrative and thematic depth.


The film also attempts to address darker themes akin to those in Whiplash and Black Swan. It introduces a subplot involving Riley's compulsive eyebrow plucking, a gesture toward exploring self-harm. Yet, this exploration is handled with a lack of sincerity, making it feel more like a superficial inclusion than a genuine exploration of personal struggle. This thematic element appears underdeveloped, included merely to check a box, and fails to resonate with the emotional gravity seen in its cinematic predecessors.


Additionally, Riley's journey showcases both internal and external conflicts, but they fail to generate the necessary intensity to fully engage the audience. The film attempts to juggle multiple genres—melding aspects of a psychological drama, a teen LGBTQ romance, and a sports drama—without fully committing to any, which dilutes the impact of each narrative thread. The vagueness in the story's focus and the exploration of these multiple themes leave the central storyline feeling scattered and the character motivations obscure.


Backspot shows promise in its exploration of complex themes and character dynamics but ultimately does not deliver a coherent and engaging narrative. The film's reluctance to delve deeply into any single aspect results in a viewing experience that, while ambitious, falls short of delivering the impactful drama it sets out to achieve. The result is a performance that attempts complex routines but ultimately fails to execute a winning formation, leaving a sense of unfulfilled potential despite its ambitious setup.


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