Queer college freshman, Alex Dall (Isabelle FuhrmanOrphan), joins her university’s rowing team and undertakes an obsessive physical and psychological journey to make it to the top varsity boat, no matter the cost. Intent on outperforming her teammates, Alex pushes herself to her limits—and beyond, alienating everyone around her in the name of success.

Lauren Hadaway‘s feature directorial debut plays like a genre bending sports drama, often crossing over into the more intense waters of a psychological thriller a la Aronofsky. You could call this the Black Swan of rowing, but The Novice‘s identity impressively stands on its own with overpowering confidence.

This isn’t only due to Hadaway’s powerful directing/writing skills. Isabelle Fuhrman delivers a career best performance. She embodies the physicality of a rower (partly due to her intense workout schedule prior to filming), but also dominates the screen by giving her most mature performance to date. Alex strives for perfection, pushing her mental and physical health to the point of self-destruction. It’s not always easy to watch and threads a fine line with nightmarish visuals that blur real life and with what’s going on inside Alex’s mind. Alex Weston‘s score haunts every scene it accompanies, it’s only fair to call his work one of the finest I’ve heard all year.

Hadaway and the entire cast & crew can be proud of all the blood, sweat and tears that went into the making of their film, as The Novice shouldn’t go unnoticed coming awards season after already winning major awards at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. This is high-grade intense storytelling and glorious moviemaking even experienced filmmakers can takes notes from.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.


Reviewed November 20, 2021 (screener provided by IFC Films). Rating: R. Running time: 94 min. 

PRODUCTION: An IFC Films release of a Picture Movers Anonymous & H2L Media Group production. Producers: Ryan Hawkins, Kari Hollend, Steven Sims & Zack Zucker. Executive Producers: Ryan Bartecki, Alex Engemann, Jeff Handel, Christopher Hines, Michael Tennant, Randy Toll & Steven Toll. 

CREW: Director/writer: Lauren Hadaway. Editing: Lauren Hadaway & Nathan Nugent. Cinematography: Todd Martin. Music: Alex Weston.

CAST: Isabelle Fuhrman, Amy Forsyth, Dilone, Jonathan Cherry, Kate Drummond, Charlotte Ubben, Chantelle Bishop & Jeni Ross.

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