Director: Norm Hunter
To most, “soccer is life” is a phrase best suited to t-shirts or bumper stickers but to Gil Davis (Gilmore Girls’ Scott Patterson), that simple statement is taken to extremes. And unfortunately, while his chance for soccer glory has passed due to a bum knee, he’s passed down this very belief to his bright, dutiful, and athletically gifted fifteen-year-old daughter, Sara (Leah Pipes) in director Norm Hunter’s festival award-winning family comedy Her Best Move.
And although the DVD cover is sure to blend in with dozens of straight-to-DVD titles aimed at tweens and teens, I’m here to tell you that it’s worth a second look. Additionally, don’t let the deceptively bubble-gum styled opening with bright girly credits and a teenage friendly soundtrack fool you into thinking it’s nothing more than yet another clichéd film about life for teenage girls. For when Her Best Move kicks into action, I quickly realized that in this case, first impressions are incredibly deceiving.
As the film begins, it seems like it’s a typical day in Sara’s increasingly hectic and demanding life as she navigates her way through high school with her best friend Tutti (not to be confused with Tootie from The Facts of Life), played by Lizzie McGuire’s Lalaine. And although her overbearing father’s preoccupation with the game has caused a rift in her parents’ marriage, Sara has tirelessly devoted ten years of loyal obedience and God-like worship of her dad who remains obsessed with turning Sara into the youngest player on the U.S. National Team. Moreover she’s never questioned his strict military-like regimen consisting of endless practices and disgusting smoothies in his attempt to live vicariously through Sara. In fact, given their tight bond, she seems to legitimately fear that without the game they would have little, if anything, in common.
However, quickly into the film, she realizes she’s in for a rude awakening when everything else she’s been forcing to the back burner soon starts rising to an overwhelming boil and she must choose her own menu for the future. Admittedly, given that last sentence, I will grant that the film does follow along the predictable and unceasingly popular coming of age path so often utilized for the target demographic — not to mention that given the sport in question, it’s sure to draw endless parallels to the vastly superior Bend It Like Beckham.
But while that film had a much larger message to offer about tolerance and racial and gender equality, Her Best Move knows exactly the story it wants to tell and it does so with the utmost of class, integrity, and refreshing wholesomeness in presenting us with an undeniably gifted athlete who has to cope with not only parental expectation but also how it’s affecting her social life in those all too crucial (and extraordinarily awkward) teen years. And although she fears that no guy wants to date a “jockette” which is evidenced in a cruel Notting Hill styled scene as Sara overhears gossip and offers some mean boys an attitude adjustment when they ridicule a photo of her, she soon finds herself drawn to the school’s new mystery boy, Josh (Drew Tyler Bell).
Adorable and sweet, Bell is cast as the prototypical outsider — shy, sensitive, and prone to hiding behind the camera he’s never without, snapping photos for the school’s paper and yearbook. And while everything about Josh would normally scream “stalker” to the average bear in our cynical day and age, especially given that he seems far too anxious to photograph Sara’s every move, soon the two “odd kids out” realize that they have much more in common than they would think and a flirtation develops.
Eager to spend time with both her best friend and her crush as well as begin participating in her second love of dance, Sara finds herself stretched far too thin, making tough choices, stumbling every so often but routinely bouncing back, while trying to always keep her head up and her eye on the ball.
In addition to receiving the Dove Foundation’s seal of approval along with numerous awards, the feature filmmaking debut from director, producer, and co-writer Norm Hunter (who collaborated with fellow newcomer Tony Vidal on the script), Her Best Move was screened as an Official Selection at prestigious festivals across the country including the Seattle, Boulder, Florida, and Newport International Film Festivals.
Filled with authenticity as Hunter reveals on the film’s official website that the heartfelt crowd pleaser was derived from his own years as a Select soccer coach as well as his experience as a father, the film, which co-stars a hilarious Daryl Sabara (as a John Hughes era geek a la Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles), earned raves from real life soccer legends including Brandi Chastain.
Recently released on DVD with zero features aside from the option of playing it either as a full screen or widescreen presentation, unfortunately the film may suffer the ill-effects of bad timing market-wise as it’s hitting the shelves darn near the exact same time as the latest straight-to-disc offerings from Disney.
And while it’s sure to flounder in the sea of the overwhelming built-in audiences anxiously awaiting the newest Miley Cyrus and Camp Rock items, it’s well worth exploring and celebrating this wholly welcome surprise that treats its teens respectfully instead of artificially. Admittedly, having zero experience with the item, I can’t speak for Camp Rock, but in the world of Hunter’s Her Best Move (and especially bolstered by the charismatic turn from its lead star Leah Pipes), the kids are definitely alright indeed.