When a film is described as “faith-based”, it seems to be a seal of fate for audiences who are ready to will it away if they don’t necessarily share the same beliefs. For filmmakers, it’s a tactic to deflect those same movie goers (and some critics) away from their work. But Overcomer, the latest film from Alex Kendrick (Fireproof, Courageous, War Room), could be a watershed for both sides.
With a script penned by himself and his brother Stephen, Alex directs himself in an inclusive movie that also reminds audiences of the difference between “being cheesy” and “being hokey”. Cheesiness associates itself with embarrassment or guilty pleasures, and Overcomer is neither. But Kendrick’s lack of subtlety to make a wholesome family film touts Overcomer as a movie that’s well-meaning but also sappy.
Though Overcomer is too on-the-nose in terms of messaging, I did appreciate how the film’s theme overlapped throughout the narrative. The message is literally the film’s title, and how each character must learn to persevere through their own personal challenges. For high school coach John Harrison (Alex Kendrick), he must learn how to bounce back from an unforeseeable fate when his aspirations for his hard-working basketball team are suddenly shot. He’s reassigned as a cross country coach for shy student Hannah Scott (Aryn Wright-Thompson), who is facing her own tribulations as a teenager who doesn’t have a feeling of belonging. Other supporting characters related to John and Hannah tie into the primary stories, but they’re also being defied in individual ways.
Eventually, the film is lead towards the word of the Lord, but it isn’t as heavy-handed as proposed. What these characters believe in isn’t imposed on the audience (though if movie goers walk away from the film inspired, that’s good). Instead of preaching, Christianity is present in the story only to encourage characters and remind them of their own value. Considering the film, mostly, takes place within the confines of Hannah’s Christian school (where John also works), this personal advice is given appropriate context and isn’t randomly peppered in to pander.
Overcomer isn’t always an interesting film (the long runtime is a little much for a plot this basic), but Kendrick’s film is good-natured enough to make an affable imprint on different audiences.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie