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Review: Overcomer (2019)

Overcomer (2019)

Directed by: Alex Kendrick

Premise: The basketball coach (Alex Kendrick) at a Christian high school is drafted into coaching the cross country team which consists of a single student (Aryn Wright-Thompson). Through the season, the coach and his student rediscover their faith.

What Works: Overcomer was written, directed, and stars Alex Kendrick who also helmed movies such as Fireproof and Courageous. Like many successful filmmakers Kendrick knows his audience and his movies are designed to give them what they want. Overcomer is funny but clean, the characters are an all-American family, and nothing about the story is very challenging; in these films any problem can be overcome by a prayer and a Bible study montage. Overcomer was produced by Affirm Films, a subsidiary of Sony, and this studio’s work is distinguished from other faith-based production houses. Affirm Films draws a better pool of talent both in front and behind the camera and the stories are more accessible than the work of other faith-based studios. Overcomer is handsomely produced. The movie has some impressive images especially exterior scenes where the natural environments pop with color and the film is well edited. The final race sequence is exceptional in the way it cross cuts action and incorporates narration. The comedy of Overcomer is hit and miss but the humor between the family members is often successful and consistently feels authentic. 

What Doesn’t: While the comedy bits between the family members play well, the dramatic moments do not. This high school basketball coach loses his team when their town is devastated by an economic calamity and many of his best players relocate to new towns. This grown man behaves like a spoiled brat whose only concern is his high school basketball team instead of the wellbeing of his students or his community. The filmmakers avoid conflict. Stories are generally about characters who want something and either struggle to get it or learn to live without it. Overcomer avoids the struggle. It skips over the difficult portions of its story. That’s certainly true of the coach’s experience—he goes from throwing a temper tantrum to soppily asking forgiveness without much space in between—but it’s also true of the cross country plot. There’s very little running or emphasis on this young woman working hard and getting stronger and what she learns about herself in the process. That’s a misunderstanding of the appeal of a sports film which is a genre all about characters suffering their way to glory. And that’s also indicative of what’s wrong with the spirituality of Overcomer. Just like the lack of athletic training, the movie takes no interest in the hard work of serious spirituality. Instead, the filmmakers run right to sentimental speeches and unearned tears. That’s true of a lot of these kinds of faith-based movies but what is so odd about Overcomer is the way the religious content feels shoehorned into the story. Spiritual themes could blend quite naturally with a sports story but the filmmakers don’t handle it well and the movie suddenly veers into religious territory, forcing a religious awakening onto the characters. And that’s all the more troubling because Overcomer implies that good things start happening to the characters when they start to believe; the content of the movie points to this young woman winning the race not because she worked hard but because she prayed to the right god. Anyone who is serious about their faith should have some reservations about that message.

Bottom Line: Overcomer is engineered to appeal to its intended audience and it will probably satisfy the core viewers. But this picture is also indicative of how pandering, simplistic, and even thoughtless the faith-based film genre can be. 

Episode: #765 (September 9, 2019)