Movie Review - T-Rex

Women's Boxing was included in the 2012 Summer Olympics for the first time ever. Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari's documentary follows one of the young women, a teenage girl, African-American, in the six months prior to those Olympics and the almost year after, as she struggles to be a part of the games and ultimately deal with the consequences both positive and negative. The movie spotlights a unique event, that of female boxers at the Olympics. It shows the conflict and co-dependence the coach and athlete can have, done even more intimately and as effectively as Creed (2015) or even, the recent Jesse Owens biopic, Race (2016), but it depicts the strength and the intelligence of an amazing person who is beautiful and wonderful in every possible way. I defy anyone to watch this movie and not fall in love with the girl in the center of it, that of Claressa Shields.

When the movie starts, Claressa Shields who is nicknamed Ressa or T-Rex is only 16 years-old. We see her celebrate her 17th birthday and we stick with her through her high school graduation in 2013. She goes on to compete in the Women's Middle 75kg at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. She's tall and has reportedly been talented in boxing since 11, recognized and trained by Jason Crutchfield, a former boxer himself.

What Crutchfield cites as her defining characteristic is her cockiness err confidence. Yet, she's very smart. She does well in school. She's friendly with everybody. She's beloved by her sister and she handles her separated parents very well, despite each having problems. Laila Ali, daughter of famed boxer Muhammad Ali, is her inspiration and like her is very focused.

That being said, she's still a teenage girl and has appropriate, if juvenile concerns, namely her fellow, teeange boyfriend. Crutchfield has a rule where people whom he trains at his gym can't be in a relationship with someone else at the gym. Unfortunately, Ressa has feelings for her sparring partner, a handsome and sweet boy named Rell, aka Lefty. Ressa has to date Rell secretly, and a good chunk of the movie is Ressa in conflict with Crutchfield about her feelings for the boy.

As we follow Ressa into the Olympics, the filmmakers capture great, quiet and even intimate moments. These moments like Ressa shaving her legs show her maturation and independence. It makes the movie a coming-of-age story, one not normally provided because it focuses on a girl of color. There are also moments that include pensive or feelings of devastation where she'll sit and stare out a window or even almost come to tears but never quite cry. It shows her vulnerability despite her cockiness, ultimately delivering such a well-rounded portrait of this girl.

Cooper and Canepari give us such a honest depiction and is able to maintain a fly-on-the-wall or non-obtrusive nature. There isn't any narration. A few titles convey necessary information to fill out the events happening on screen. Having been set in Flint, Michigan, the filmmakers could have taken the opportunity to comment on the recent water crisis there. This movie was filmed years prior to that crisis, which began in 2014, so it probably wouldn't have fit, but a scene resonates where despite the successes Ressa achieves, she still has to go with her mom to the water company to pay the bills. In that regard, the Flint water crisis could be invoked briefly in the minds of those watching.

Yet, when it comes to Olympic athletes or athletes in general and their financial situations, this movie does a good job of taking us into the reality and shattering some myths and illusions. Ressa at one point says to the effect, "They think just cause... [I'm in the Olympics] that I'm rich. I'm not rich." Movies like Matthew A. Cherry's The Last Fall or Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher show the aftermath of athletes playing professionally or at the Olympics and then coming home to people who think they've made it, when in truth the athlete often returns to the same poverty they left. This film is selfsame.

Ressa also has another poignant quote where she talks about her dreams saying, "Now they came true, what else do you dream about?" It's a powerful quote and one so profound for someone her age and within the black community because it's a reminder that it's good to dream but one always should be mindful of what happens when you wake from that dream. What comes after?

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but for general audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 29 mins.

Opens in NYC on June 24 at IFP Made in NY Media Center.
Additional screenings across the country in June.
For more screenings dates and cities, go to T-Rex Movie website.
Available Now on VOD to download or stream via Vimeo.
Premieres on PBS on August 2. Check local listings.
Universal Pictures bought the rights for possible feature.


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