The obsession that lies at the heart of competitive sports drives this compulsive thriller about a student determined to make her varsity rowing team.
No sooner has freshman Alex Dall (Isabelle Fuhrman) arrived at Wellington University, she has joined the college rowing team. It’s not a sport she is familiar with, but in everything she does Alex is driven. She soon finds herself not only wanting to succeed, but to be the best. And that puts her in competition with other, more naturally gifted aspirants. But Alex’s biggest competition is herself, her total immersion in the sport never quite hitting the standards she sets for herself, which threaten to push her beyond her limit, both physically and psychologically.
The Novice is dominated by Fuhrman’s committed performance. No less unsettling than her portrayal of a demented killer in Orphan, Fuhrman brilliantly conveys the complexity of Alex’s obsession. Director Lauren Hadaway, who was the sound editor in Whiplash, with which The Novice resonates, keeps her camera close to Fuhrman, taking us deep into Alex’s psyche. The use of classic 1950s torch songs adds to the intensity of the training sessions, where Alex’s obsession is made startlingly clear. Ultimately, the film is less about sports than a generation brought up with the idea that good is never enough. It’s win or fail, with nothing in between.