Bama Rush is a failed experiment that starts strong and never sticks a landing.
Published on June 7, 2023
Rating 2 /5
Bama Rush is a documentary with a great premise that, unfortunately, has its legs cut off before getting to a juicy third act. Director Rachel Fleit wants to unearth the hideousness that comes with the sorority lifestyle at Alabama University. But in her desire to craft a meaningful picture, she gets lost in the weeds of her connection to female acceptance and the compromised distance of the documentary itself.
For the first few minutes, Rachel Fleit remains distant from the camera. She interviews a handful of sorority pledges and plans to follow them through the hazing process of being accepted in sorority houses. These houses are clearly of the stuffy variety, putting on the veneer of being proper housing despite the penchant for parties and drinking. Fashion is big and looks are everything when it comes to being accepted, as current and past pledges stress in many interviews.
But then there’s a big shift in the film. During an interview with a young pledge, the woman, all dolled up with makeup and well-groomed hair, asks about Rachel Fleit’s lack of hair. Rachel has Alopecia and grew up without hair, which became a social issue for nearly her entire life. When a college student started asking her questions about sunburn, Rachel decided not to hide behind the camera anymore. She opens up about her experiences of not feeling accepted and her terrifying struggle to conceal her baldness from critical girls. At this point in the film, Rachel says she thinks she has found her hook. However, how the hook plays out doesn’t overlap as much as she’d like.
There’s very little of the dark side we get to see of the sorority rush process because so much of it is behind closed doors. This is pretty literal at one point when pledges peak into a decadent house, its prim interior behind closed doors. A core subject of the film is the elusive nature of a sorority political apparatus referred to simply as The Machine. The way that the members speak of The Machine makes it seem like an Illuminati-style collective of college students. They all meet and adhere to the same perspectives, keeping everybody together in lock-step by voting and acting the same. This would be an interesting aspect to explore. Sadly, Rachel doesn’t get very far with this.
During filming, Rachel’s documentary production is discovered by The Machine, and the social media channels of sororities explode with warnings. They start getting paranoid about who will be in this film, kicking out a girl who looks like she has a microphone attached, despite not being a part of the documentary. At this point, the film probably should have found a different angle. Instead, the film merely wraps up with the remaining girls being interviewed, most deciding not to be accepted.
Bama Rush is a failed experiment that starts strong and never sticks a landing. In Rachel’s attempt to find meaning and relation for the current mindset of the Alabama Rush, she doesn’t unearth much. The film might be decent for addressing the phenomenon of The Machine, but it doesn’t get much further than that.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.