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Athena Film Festival 2013 | Day 3

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athena 75Events in Future Weather sometimes test even the most patient audience member’s willingness to suspend disbelief, but Perla Haney-Jardine’s performance is so strong that it holds the film together.

 

 

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On the final day of the 2013 Athena Film Festival, I saw two features that focused on young women pursuing science, in the case of Jenny Deller’s Future Weather, and athletic glory, in the case of Fast Girls. While neither film is an absolute masterpiece, both have substantial appeal to the right audience, and both offer good alternatives to the typical roles in which mainstream American films usually present girls and women.

I first saw Perla Haney-Jardine as a child actor in Anywhere, USA, a 2008 independent feature film written and directed by her father, Chusy Haney-Jardine. She was by far the best actor in that film, and, four years later, she’s paying off on her initial promise with an outstanding performance as the lead character in Jenny Deller’s Future Weather. Haney-Jardine plays Lauduree, a 13-year-old in rural Illinois who tries to escape her turbulent home life by pouring all her energies into science projects, and to an intense concern with global warming that mystifies everyone around her. Lauduree is like a seed that has fallen on barren ground, conducting experiments in carbon sequestration in the context of a school where smart kids get beat up, and living in a trailer with a mother (Marin Ireland) so neglectful that she simply takes off for California one day while Lauduree is in school, leaving behind a note and a $50 bill.

Haney-Jardine presents a sensitive portrait of a conflicted teenager who’s been forced to become self-sufficient before she’s really ready, and must cope with an environment in which no one really sees her for who she is. Her tough-talking grandmother Greta (Amy Madigan) takes her in, but has no appreciation of who Lauduree is, nor why anyone would care about some old trees planted in a field. The one person who does get it is Lauduree’s science teacher (Lili Taylor) but, not surprisingly, she sets clear boundaries regarding how involved she’s willing to become involved in Lauduree’s life. Events in Future Weather sometimes test even the most patient audience member’s willingness to suspend disbelief, but Haney-Jardine’s performance is so strong that it holds the film together.

If there a single sports movie cliché that Regan Hall neglected in Fast Girls, the story of two sprinters trying to make Great Britain’s international athletics squad, I’m not aware of it. And yet watching Fast Girls is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and a particularly welcome contribution to the genre because it focuses on female athletes competing in a non-glamour sport. I’m all for equal time when it comes to genre movies, and women have been sorely neglected in the realm of the upbeat sports flick—teammates conquering their differences and pulling together to defeat adversity and all that.

Shania (Lenora Crichlow) is a young black woman living in a cramped apartment with her aunt’s family and training on a beat-up East London track under the direction of a moonlighting shopkeeper (Phillip Davis). Lisa (Lily James) is blonde, wealthy, and well-connected—her father (Rupert Graves) was a champion athlete himself and oversees her training while using his influence to assure her place on the national team. You know they’re going to start as enemies and end as friends, but there are enough credible scenes of training and competition to make this film a must-see for any athletics fan, and enough turns and twists in their journey to create at least a modicum of suspense as to the final outcome. Fine supporting performances are turned in by Noel Clarke as the team manager (he also co-wrote the screenplay), Rupert Graves as Lisa’s father, and Lorraine Burroughs, Lashana Lynch, and Dominique Tripper as Shania’s and Lisa’s teammates. | Sarah Boslaugh

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