Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde
The Novice tells the story of queer freshman physics major Alex Dall (Isabelle Fuhrman) who gets into crew (competitive rowing)with the goal to make the varsity team. What we observe during the film’s runtime is a magnification of Dall’s obsessions and compulsions as she tries to make her way to the first boat. During the film’s progression we view subtle hints about why Alex is trying to exert control on her external environment.
Intertwined with her attempts to row crew and make the team, we gain insight into how she navigates relationships with various individuals and the crew team. As well as the romantic relationship she develops with one of her Teacher’s Assistants. The Novice does not spell itself out for the audience and, at times, is a bit convoluted. However, the last 45 minutes really pick up the pace as we start to unpeel the layers and see what really makes Alex tick.
This reminded me of Whiplash(2014) but with a boat rather than a drum set. It’s an impressive debut from writer and director Lauren Hadaway and a star-making performance for Isabelle Fuhrman. Although the script could use a little tightening this was a strong first effort. The physicality Fuhrman was able to embody not only compelled me but kept me engrossed. There were brilliant shots on the water combined with the score that had me almost breathless. Right now, I can see this being one of my contenders for the best film of the festival. Don’t miss it.