“Topples over from worthy into over-earnest.”
Let me start with the Amazon synopsis, since this explains what it’s doing here: “Dreya Weber stars as Alex, a decorated Marine officer who is unexpectedly discharged from her wartime duty. Returning to her conservative home town she agrees to coach and counsel the precocious teen rebel Saffron (Paris Pickard). Alex is the no-nonsense role model and authority figure that Saffron needs, and in true Karate Kid style she inspires the young woman s transition from slacker to boot camp-ready Marine recruit. But as Saffron is finally finding the strength to grow up, Alex must find new courage to face her own demons.” While not technically incorrect in any detail, it’s probably significant that it makes absolutely no mention of a very significant plot element, which impacts just about all other aspects of the story. Alex was kicked out of the Marines for being a lesbian.
While knowing that likely would not have impacted my selection of the film, I would have to say the heavy emphasis placed on it likely did detract from my enjoyment. Not, I should stress, for the gay angle. The issue would be exactly the same if the lead character had been heterosexual, and defined to an equal degree by her relationships, because that’s the kind of thing I expect from a soap-opera character, rather than an action heroine. It’s clear the topic of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is a subject about which both director and star felt passionately, and it’s perhaps unfortunate (for the film, rather than those affected by it!) the policy was revoked by the US government shortly after the movie’s release, rendering it a lot of well-intentioned hand-wringing about not much, from a 2016 perspective.
The rest of this isn’t bad, although the ease with which Saffron is turned around by Alex is remarkable, suggesting that a stint in boot camp is just the cure all America’s disaffected youth requires. The synopsis does nail this as in “True Karate Kid style”, being roughly as plausible. But I do have to say, Weber completely nails the Marine thing, both in well-muscled physical appearance – and, perhaps more importantly, the attitude of quiet, coiled energy and absolutely confidence in her own abilities. Yet there’s also a streak of aggression, and some which is perfect for a soldier, yet less compatible with civilian life, and causes no shortage of issues, especially when combined with Alex’s tendency to react first. There’s likely enough meat there for a story, without having to add the sexual politics angle which, as noted above, has not dated particularly well, and to be honest, becomes moral overkill before the final credits roll – complete with another nugget of social justice. No, the topic isn’t the problem here: it’s the heavy-handed treatment.
Dir: Ned Farr
Star: Dreya Weber, Paris P. Pickard, Christine Mourad, Anthony Michael Jones