Director: Alex Kendrick
Screenwriters: Alex Kendrick, Stephen Kendrick
Starring: Alex Kendrick, Priscilla Shirer, Shari Rigby, Jack Sterner
The Kendrick Brothers have made several fundamentalist Christian films over the years. The entirety of their filmography is set in the crumbling, idyllic small-town America and features Salt-of-the-Earth protagonists whom face the hardships of marital strife, financial issues and/or drug addiction because they’ve strayed from their Christian values, with the narrative solution to such hardships often being provided by way of the protagonist becoming a Scotsman Christian – these films are truly the cinematic equivalent of a “Let Go Let God” t-shirt. Overcomer is all of that, but done in the sloppiest way I’ve ever seen.
Overcomer’s plot is hard to explain. It follows a high school basketball coach at a private school who has to coach the school’s cross country team, which only has one runner. There’s inciting exposition (a TV announces the closing of the town’s “oldest manufacturing plant”), and then scene upon scene of tangentially related events that can stop and start at random; the film even switches protagonists in the middle instead of finding a way to weave together a more balanced narrative.
Almost nonsensically, the role of coach becomes the central most concern of a film set against the backdrop of much more interesting events, such as the mass unemployment of almost an entire town, an aspect of the picture that illustrates the misdirected and fundamentally flawed perspective of the film and its creators. Alex Kendrick, the co-screenwriter and director of the piece, of course plays the lead role, and his character’s struggle to adapt to cross country coaching or to find anyone to run for his team takes precedence despite him being one of the most privileged characters in the film (he’s employed and his team is funded despite it only having one competitor, for example). Seriously, watch the trailer and tell me that his isn’t the central most conflict at the heart of this film. Can you think of a worse plot than “protagonist realizes that telling people to run isn’t that bad”? Maybe it would work as a comedy or surreal film, but this is a drama, and I’m supposed to take this problem seriously.
The other protagonist, who is barely a character throughout half of the film, is Hannah. Hannah has a magazine ad with a father and daughter so that we know she doesn’t have a dad. That, plus her lack of Jesus, drives her to steal… but not so she can use the stuff or sell it – I guess she’s just a compulsive thief, but it really doesn’t matter. You could edit out all the stealing and it wouldn’t change the movie one bit. What does matter is that her dad did cross country because the interests of your parents predetermine your course in life.
This film was made for the princely sum of $5million, more than half a million dollars more than Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning horror Get Out, so surely it could have grabbed itself a better writer and/or editor? In Overcomer, plot points spring up out of nowhere, jump all over the place, and the ending drags on as the film gets stuck in random bits of pseudo-conflict. First coach’s team is leaving, then he only has one runner, then she has asthma, then they need Jesus, then she wants to meet her father, then her grandma won’t let her, then her grandma gets mad when she doesn meet him, then there’s a meeting of cross country coaches to decide if runners can use earbuds. It’s a visual “and then”, like a toddler telling a story. These are only a fraction of the conflicts, which are generally resolved in stupid or lazy ways moments after being introduced.
As far as I can tell, the message of this movie is that it’s not enough to believe in things, but that you also have to really believe it. Your kids, your wife, job at your Christian school… those are all secondary to a collective imaginary friend that makes your life suck if he gets offended (and that is the worldview on display in this film, no matter how many lines say “it’s not God’s fault”). Before getting really into Jesus, characters have the big sads, and they fight with their family members as their world’s crumble around them. After getting really into Jesus, their world is rosey and their attitude is saintly. There’s nothing proactive about this turn around, unless you count praying. Characters do nothing to actually better themselves, improve their communication skills or learn to control their emotions. Audiences are led to believe that comes naturally with Christianity, and as someone who knows a lot of Christians, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Overcomer is nothing more than Christian propaganda aiming to make a huge gross from old people and families that don’t want their kids seeing the latest Spider-Man or Angry Birds 2. As usual, it worked… but money doesn’t make a good movie. You can watch movies almost exactly like Overcomer on Netflix or Prime without leaving the comfort of your house. That is, of course, if you are desperate to watch such a poorly conceived faith-based movie.