“Backwards” is a warm film about competitive rowing, a propulsive sport that’s only rarely enjoyed a big-screen close-up (1984’s “Oxford Blues” and 1986’s “The Boy in Blue” come to mind). Although this modest indie may not make a huge splash, it just might inspire some hearty younger viewers — especially women — to grab a set of oars and find their bliss.
The efficiently plotted drama follows 30-year-old Abigail Brooks (writer-producer — and former rower — Sarah Megan Thomas), a recent U.S. Olympic rowing team alternate with dreams of a gold medal. But after four more grueling years of training, when the hard-driving athlete is again named an Olympic alternate — instead of a first-string participant — she quits the team and moves back in with her widowed, skeptical mother (Margaret Colin).
As movie luck would have it, though, there’s an opening for a crew coach at Abi’s alma mater, nearby Union High, where, even more fortuitously, her old boyfriend, Geoff (a quite good James Van Der Beek), is the athletic director. Abi’s soon fervently training a promising pair of rowers (Alexandra Metz, Meredith Apfelbaum) for England’s Henley Royal Regatta while rekindling her relationship with Geoff.
It’s simple stuff, but it works.
Director Ben Hickernell (“Lebanon, Pa.”) nicely captures rowing’s grace and beauty — and pain and power — against a lovely array of iconic, Philadelphia backdrops.
“Backwards.” MPAA rating: PG for some mild language. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. At Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.