Overcomer (2019)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Inspirational Drama  |   Release Date - Aug 23, 2019 (USA)  |   Run Time - 119 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Lauren Vanderveen

Director and writer Alex Kendrick's film Overcomer is a clich├ęd feel-good family drama, with no intuition for cinematic language. Its low-budget quality and overall monotony resemble a Lifetime movie, while the socio-economic and racial dynamics portrayed in this narrative make it risk being viewed by some spectators as a white savior film.

High school teacher and basketball coach John Harrison (Kendrick) is the hard-working, middle-class patriarch of his family. But the outsourcing of factory jobs devastates his local community and forces most families (and John's players, subsequently) out of town. When the basketball team disintegrates, John becomes the cross-country coach. A modest, young girl with asthma and a penchant for petty thievery named Hannah (Aryn Wright-Thompson) joins the team. In fact, she's the entire team.

The Christian faith is the bedrock of the story's characters and motivations. John becomes more and more involved in Hannah's home and spiritual nurturing, but it's accomplished through exceedingly theatrical acting to make up for its lack of artistry. The best the filmmakers could achieve in terms of cinematography is high key lighting in every single frame with weighty gospel music to hammer down its pious intent. It rarely, if at all, strays from this blueprint.

A huge red flag is how emotional setups are just left dangling in mid-air with no pay off in sight. In particular, the outsourcing plot point is handled terribly. It's set up in the film's beginning, but isn't pursued. Kendrick exploits the worst nightmares (or realities) of blue-collar America to illicit outrage, without any follow through or investigation of its consequences. It happens again with Hannah's stealing habits. She merely steals until she is saved and then she doesn't. There's no exploration of the why she stole in the first place.

Overcomer prefers rather to be an iteration of The Blind Side, another bland film that steps its foot in a hugely problematic trope of the white hero saving a poor, black child. In Kendrick's film, John wants to bring Hannah closer to both her biological father and the Holy Father. But the irregular pacing and bloated story, coupled with the horrendously gauche acting, disengage the audience. In fact, one could argue the entire purpose of making Hannah a cross country runner - as opposed to just joining his basketball team without the thoughtless outsourcing plot point - is to add numerous "fluff" scenes of her jogging through the forest to make up for the film's lack of story.

When actual narrative moments occur, they are overly dramatic and miraculous in nature, not grounded in reality. For example, we learn Hannah was raised by her grandmother after the supposed passing of her parents. But John magically comes across Hannah's real father Thomas (Cameron Arnett) in the hospital, blinded and desperate straits because of his diabetes. He attempts to bring the two together, without even consulting Hannah's grandmother. The resulting fight between the two situates an embarrassing dynamic of the grandmother as an angry, black woman and John as a white Christian hero.

The consistently trite acting is the main downfall of Overcomer. It takes you out of the story world and feels more akin to a Mega Church promotional video. A scene that immediately springs to mind is one between Hannah and her school principal Olivia Brooks (Priscilla C. Shirer), after Hannah has just met her father. In Hannah's most vulnerable moment of confusion and anger, Olivia chooses to teach the light, love, and forgiveness of God and Jesus to her. The construction of the scene is unpleasant to digest. The camera pulls into a close-up of Olivia's face, her eyes wide, as the music soars in the background. It comes across as maniacally serene and borderline brainwashing. In short, the scene takes no true consideration for Hannah's perspective.

Overcomer, ironically, has a lot to overcome. The heavy-handed themes and short-sighted artistic quality make for a mind-numbing excuse for a film.