As the city of London gears up for its hosting gig at the 2012 Olympic games, people the world over seem to be donning their home colours and preparing for a summer of flag waving, false starts and phenomenal feats of athleticism. So what better way for movie studios to cash in on Olympic-fever than to slap the same old underdog sports movie formula onto a scantily clad women’s relay team?
Fast Girls follows the ups and downs of the British women’s sprint relay team, as they struggle to overcome their personal differences in order to beat their global rivals and win gold at the World Athletics Championships. Shania (Lenora Crichlow), a tough but hardworking girl from one of London’s roughest estates is the newest member of the team, but her presence is resented by privileged Lisa (Lily James) whose father, a former gold-medallist himself, controls the team with an iron fist.
It’s hardly surprising that the film’s entire narrative arc can be mapped out within the first ten minutes of the movie. From the over-simplified social backgrounds (rich white girl vs. poor black girl) to the obligatory locker room pep talks, and plenty of slow motion ‘will-they won’t-they’ action, all the expected elements are here. And let’s not forget those rousing training montages. However as cynical as it all sounds this isn’t just a pre-Olympics cash grab, Fast Girls (despite its horribly literal title) has much more to offer than that.
In his previous screenplay (22.214.171.124, 2010), BAFTA Rising Star award winner Noel Clarke gave his female leads strength and guts with one hand, and then took it all away via gratuitous scenarios with the other. Here, however, he and his co-writers have created a real sense of sisterhood between these characters, and it goes a long way in forming the heart that becomes the film’s greatest asset. While they may not have the most original of back-stories, it isn’t hard to get behind these women, particularly Crichlow’s Shania, who I found to be a far more engaging heroine than many of Hollywood’s recent attempts at strong female leads (think Katniss, Bella, and a couple of Snow Whites). Crichlow’s performance is feisty, dedicated and a solid breakthrough from her fairly broad television work. I strongly suspect this won’t be the last we see of this talented young actress.
Other newcomers amongst the cast fair equally well. Lashana Lynch sparkles as vivacious hurdler Belle, while Bradley James, best known for playing a young King Arthur in the BBC series Merlin, shows himself to be a worthy romantic lead as team physio Carl. Meanwhile actors you may actually have heard of include Rupert Graves, whose days of frolicking naked in period dramas seem to be well behind him, and Noel Clarke himself, who has long been a man of many talents, and stars here as the team’s struggling coach.
Debut director Regan Hall handles the material well. Rather fittingly he keeps the plot moving at a rapid pace, never allowing the drama of the characters’ home lives to overpower the excitement he builds around the races. Surprisingly he never sexualises the athletes, which would have been an easy stumbling block for a man who until now has built his career on directing Dolce & Gabbana fragrance commercials. It really shows a commendable maturity that there are no Transformers-style ‘Megan Fox bending over a car bonnet’ shots. It proves the heart of the film really belongs to the dreams of its lead players, and it’s for this reason that the film’s conclusion is such a great payoff.
As hard as I try to resist sports movie contrivances in those clichéd go-for-broke moments, I found myself surrendering fully to the exciting climax here. Despite the film’s flaws, its effect is undeniable. This is an uplifting crowd-pleaser, bolstered by a high-energy soundtrack featuring a host of British urban talents (Emeli Sandé, Tinie Tempah and the like) that makes an honest attempt at taking its audience on a journey of perseverance and overcoming the odds. If it doesn’t make it to a theatre near you (and the likelihood is it won’t) then track it down on DVD, it’s a perfectly serviceable rainy day flick that promotes warmth in its viewers, and left me that little bit more excited about this summer’s upcoming sporting events.