Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Backwards Movie Poster Image
Drama is bland but teaches girls about competitive rowing.
  • PG
  • 2012
  • 89 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Discipline and drive are encouraged as part of the competitive spirit needed to be as successful athlete. Strong "women in sports" message revolving around a sport that isn't usually represented in movies: rowing.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Despite her flaws and her inability to accept being an alternate on the Olympic team, Abi is a role model for her dedication to rowing, as both a rower and a coach. Her advice that girls shouldn't be afraid to bring a little bit of aggression to their competitions is an important lesson for kids to learn.


Abi and Geoff flirt and eventually kiss.


One "s--t," plus "stupid," "loser," and other insults like "selfish," "lazy," and "old."


One scene in which Tootsie Rolls are shown.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Backwards is a sports drama that's more about a coach's journey than a group of players. Written by and starring a former rower, the movie offers a look at a sport that isn't usually depicted in movies (rowing) and encourages girls to discover their inner athlete. While the content is mild overall -- there's one use of the word "s--t" (as well as some other milder insult language) and a bit of flirting/kissing -- the themes might be a bit too mature (or uninteresting) for the under-10 set.

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What's the story?

Abi Brooks (screenwriter and former rower Sarah Meghan Thomas) has one goal before her upcoming 30th birthday: to make it on the women's Olympic rowing team. But after failing to make the boat for the second Olympics in a row, she gives up her alternate spot and hightails it back to her hometown of Philadelphia, where her mother (Margaret Colin) hopes she'll take a high-paying job. Instead, Abi decides to ask her former sweetheart, Geoff (James Van Der Beek), for a job coaching the girls' rowing team at their high school alma mater. Now a coach, Abi sees particular potential in two girls, Hannah (Alexandra Metz) and Susan (Meredith Apfelbaum), who just need the right kind of guidance to make it to the world-famous Henley Royal Regatta in England.

Is it any good?

Part failure-to-launch tale and part inspirational sports film, BACKWARDS is a movie that hinges completely on the performance of its star, and Thomas comes up short. While there's no doubt about her love of rowing (the title is a reference to the fact it's the only sport where you win going "backwards"), she lacks the charisma necessary to pull off such an obvious star vehicle. Not to mention that the film seems to take itself and its protagonist far too seriously. There's no joy (at least out of the water), no humor, no chemistry to speak of -- with Abi's potential love interest, her students, or even her mom. 

One of the movie's few memorable scenes is a small but telling moment when a distraught, restless Abi gorges herself on Tootsie rolls, stuffing them in her mouth as if their sticky sweetness can erase the overwhelming sense of failure she feels. There's no dialogue, but the act is a poignant reminder of everything Abi sacrificed to train for four -- really eight -- years, but it still wasn't enough. Eventually Abi's dream comes true, but it comes at a cost she's not willing to pay. Hoosiers or Remember the Titans this isn't, but at least, for once, it's about the ambition of female athletes.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why more sports movies seem to concentrate on men/boys than women/girls. Which examples can you think of in both categories?

  • Did Backwards teach you anything about rowing you didn't know? Does it seem like a sport you'd want to try?

  • Do you think Abi ultimately made the right decision? Should she have chosen her own dream rather than her students'?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love sports and girl power

Themes & Topics

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