DVD Review: Back of the Net (2019)

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Before she accidentally got on the wrong bus and wound up not at Harold Academy Australian Semester at Sea but Harold Soccer Academy instead, the only experience that young gifted American science student Cory Bailey (Sofia Wylie) had with the sport was spray painting soccer balls for her AP solar system diorama.

Forced to get a lot more acquainted with soccer since, by the time she's discovered her mistake her ship has literally sailed and her parents are practicing medicine in New Dehli at the moment, Cory has no choice but to make peace with the ball she'd much rather paint than kick.

Thrilled when she finds out she'll be able to study chemistry — as all student athletes are required to take classes at the academy as well — although soccer takes some getting used to, Cory is determined to make the best of it. Buoyed by a great group of new friends including cute, talented player Oliver (Trae Robin), though she's tested throughout Louise Alston's jubilant feature Back of the Net, Cory's positive attitude goes a long way when she makes an enemy out of Tiarnie Coupland's queen bee, Edie.

While there's nothing original about TV movie veterans Alison Spuck McNeeley and Casie Tabanou's admittedly paint-by-numbers script which adheres very closely to the underdog sports movie playbook established over the last five decades of cinematic storytelling, Net stays afloat with its upbeat spirit and breakneck pace.

Planting the seeds for actual depth and/or stronger subplot potential early on, such as when we learn that Oliver's financially strapped family has been going through a tough time, unfortunately the eighty-two minute feature doesn't give moments like these the time or support needed to let them bloom. Yet although it might not win over adults who've seen so many underdog sports movies that they've gotten the mechanics of the plot down to a science, by refreshingly centering its tale on a young woman of color and hiring women behind-the-scenes to bring it to life, this girl power movie's heart is definitely in the right place.

A surprisingly effective — if ultimately underwhelming — combination of science and sport, Alston's film is sure to strike a chord with its target audience who may have seen the Australian feature on the Disney Channel before its recent DVD release. While Back of the Net doesn't manage to transcend its predictable formula, by moving as fast as a soccer ball down the field, its irrepressible enthusiasm and infectious energy is hard to deny.

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