Strider has a strong heart that pulls it through to the finish line.
Published on May 24, 2023
Rating 3 /5
Strider is an independent film with a solid hustle. Given its rural setting, basic script, and sharp focus on the actors being fit enough to run the distance more than their acting, this film was shot on a budget. And, yet, there’s great charm in the effort for this picture that sets some simple goals and manages to meet them primarily. The result is a film that won’t redefine the sports genre of torch-passing amid a coming-of-age drama, but it won’t disappoint in its staging either.
Jody is established as a teenager on summer break but finds little relaxation at home. With no mother present, Jody needs to care for her troublesome brothers while her bitter father tries to hold down the fort. Angry, Jody blows off steam by running around the empty fields of her mildly barren community. Her jogging attracts the attention of the failed runner Hannah, who has fallen on hard times financially. Intrigued by this girl, Hannah takes Jody under her wing and trains for the upcoming Pinnacle Games. It won’t be easy, but Hannah can sense greatness in Jody.
The film centers entirely around Jody’s training and Hannah’s faith in being a coach. Jody’s most significant hurdles will come from her somewhat-critical father and her new love interest, Tim. The elemental hurdles become visible when Hannah starts listing the dos and don’ts of a track runner’s diet and routine. Specifically, she mentions booze and states that Jody probably doesn’t drink, but she should knock it off if she does. She does not knock it off, as Tim manages to convince her that drinking somehow unlocks a portal into a new world of thinking. Tim might’ve mistaken vodka for marijuana there.
Much of the banter ranges from ho-hum exposition dumps to mildly playful exchanges between trainer and trainee and boyfriend and girlfriend. Jody's many moments of connection certainly have the right tone considering her chipper nature. It makes obligatory moments like spending time in a field with Tim or leaning on her coach’s shoulder more enduring for the present than the line delivery.
There’s a smart call to shoot most of this film outside for Jody’s training. The long roads of nothing and shady areas of the woodlands make for great shooting locations and are believable for Hannah’s coaching. These scenes ring more accurately than if the film were set in an awkwardly staged gym that looked far too new if shot on a budget. It’s also wise that the film never culminates with the big game Jody is training for, as the audience more or less knows how that finale would go down.
Strider has a strong heart that pulls it through to the finish line. There are goals it sets that are achieved well, where it’s easy to root for Jody to win a race or Hannah to keep training her protege. It doesn’t struggle for drama and makes the relationships meaningful, where even Jody’s less present father still shows some care for his daughter’s well-being. This is not a game-changer sports drama, but it plays so firmly that there’s some admirability to its earnest and sweet nature.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.