the gymnast

the gymnast

2006
Written and Directed: Ned Farr

I'm always talking about how it is far better to have a film with an excellent story and characters than it is to have one that looks pretty - but isn't it wonderful when a film has both?

Don't be fooled, the film isn't even about gymnastics, or really even a gymnast for that matter. Yes, the lead character Jane (Dreyer Weber from Everything Relative) was a gymnast in her younger days, but an unfortunate accident ruled her out of her Olympic dream. It's like the film is named for the Jane that was, but not the Jane who will be.

In the twenty years since then she's lived in an unhappy marriage, taken anti-dopressants just to get by, and has religiously schooled her body to keep it looking almost as young as it was when she was competing. Seriously, she's buff. She's so disciplined that every second of watching her made me feel incredibly lazy. Lots is made in the film of the fact that she's 43 and that well-muscled. Really, some of her feats of raw strength left me gaping.

One day Jane wakes up and realises she somehow forgot to have a child, and now it's too late for her to conceive naturally. To have a baby through IVF she needs to confront her clueless husband, but he's gotten so used to ignoring her existence that she has to switch porn on the TV to remind him to come and have sex.

In frustration, and with perhaps a prescience about what she needs to become happy again, Jane wanders into a local gym and meets Nicole, a trainer and aerialist. Nicole convinces Jane to join her and another woman, a Korean dancer named Serena (the simply gorgeous Addie Yungmee), to get an aerial act together and take it to Vegas. Jane is intrigued at first, then grows to love her new high-flying existence.

Jane's best friend and old gymnastic colleague, who has been through three divorces and is now stinking rich, is passionate and provides the push to help Jane get over her fears, even helping to finance their act. That passion rubs off on Jane - when Nicole is called away in an emergency, Serena and Jane begin to train alone, and their aerial chemistry blossoms into desire.

Writer/director Nick Farr has created a love story of uncommon visual and emotional strength from unusual subject matter. Yes, the ignored wife plotline is right out of a Hallmark movie, but Farr has the good sense not to dawdle there, instead pouring all the film's emotional power and energy into the glorious scenes of the two women and their acrobatics.

Same goes with adopted Serena's backstory of being closeted and finding it hard to come out to her conservative, Jewish parents. The tension remains between the two women and isn't sucked into the side story, which at first I thought was an odd omission, but now I realise actually strengthened the film. Farr seems to have avoided the vast majority of the overwrought pitfalls that tend to plague no-budget, indepedent film.

The pace, visuals and "follow your heart" storyline reminded me more than once of Patricia Rozema's When Night is Falling (which also briefly featured some trapeze artists). This film is at least as good as that one, and in many ways better because it doesn't get distracted by it's own symbolic cleverness. Jane is simple, she likes simple things and simple pleasures. Weber's face reflected all her character's inner complexity and growing lust for life, while the supporting cast were good enough to accentuate the main plot and not to get in Weber's way.

The final acrobatic sequence is so sexy, an absolute stunner, as are the scenes of the two women and their growing attraction to each other. The music is gorgeous and matches the film. The whole thing feels so damn professional, with only the tiniest of moments here and there to remind you that it was made on a shoestring. Filmmakers with or without money take note, this is how it should be done.

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