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What's the story?
In RAISING THE BAR, Kelly (Kelli Berglund of Disney's Lab Rats) is an elite competitor in gymnastics until she falls during a crucial routine. The mistake costs her and her team a championship. Her father, the team's coach, is disappointed, and her teammates turn against her. At the same time, her parents' marriage crumbles, and Kelly believes that arguments over her gymnastics broke them up. Wanting to quit the sport, a self-doubting Kelly moves to Adelaide, Australia, with her surgeon mom. But the gym beckons. New friend Nicola (Lili Karamalikis), a fellow senior at her new high school, is desperate to become good enough to join the school's elite gymnastics team, and Kelly begins coaching her. Imperious Jess, the team's bossy and mean captain, nixes Nicola repeatedly until Kelly agrees to join, too. At the same time, Kelly's confidence crisis continues while American ex-teammates denigrate her on social media. In the end, Kelly demonstrates that she's a loyal friend to Nic and manages to prove her grit in competition. In the final moments, a male classmate flirts with her and they agree to date.
Is it any good?
This is about as routine a movie about competitive sport as they make. Berglund is an attractive heroine and her dance training certainly helps during transitions when the action cuts from close-ups of her to long shots of body double Australian Olympic gymnast Larissa Miller, performing the more difficult routines. But the cuts between actual gymnasts and the actors playing gymnasts are inept. To disguise the body doubles, the filmmakers shoot floor routines from directly above, so not only are faces hidden but so is the magic of the spectacular athleticism. For bar routines, the camera focuses on the equipment, mostly catching hands interacting with the bars. It's disorienting to watch the sport this way, analogous to recording a tennis match by only aiming the camera at hands holding racquets.
None of the girls in Raising the Bar look like competitive gymnasts, who are generally compact and muscular, a body type better designed for leaping, tumbling, and twirling through the air. This isn't to say that other body types couldn't be good gymnasts, but this movie is unconvincingly about an "elite" team. Another rub is that although the negative influences of competitive envy are explored here, nowhere does the movie address mental and physical health issues that female gymnasts can face, including overtraining injuries (gymnastics has one of the highest injury rates in girls' sports), bulimia, and body image problems. The pressure to stay small in gymnastics can lead to eating disorders and stunted growth. The good news is that a cyberbully is reprimanded.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what it means to nurture self-confidence in young and teen girls. What are some of the ways that engaging in competitive sports can build confidence, and what are the ways such activities might undermine it?
Does Raising the Bar make becoming an elite gymnast look fun? Glamorous? Do you think this is a realistic portrayal of the training and dedication of elite athletes?
Is there something in your life that you want to put in the time and hard work to get really good at? Do you think passionate musicians also train hard to become great, the way athletes do?
For kids who love sports
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