If you’re going to parody rape culture, at least address rape.
Rock Steady Row is the kind of parody that feels more like a callow inside joke. It’s the first day of college and a regular-looking white guy shows up to a campus represented by dilapidated military barracks. His bike gets stolen (omg I know right?) and absorbed into the fraternity-ruled bicycle black market. Passed out women are swapped as currency and the fraternity entrance is guarded by a large black male literally grunting like an animal. Sounds pretty funny, right?
Well, it was for the audience at the screening I attended, but I suppose that was due to the fact that the majority of attendees were the cast and crew. I suppose that’s also why the film was awarded the grand jury narrative feature award and the audience narrative feature award at Slamdance 2018. Peer pressure works outside of fraternities too.
“…Diamond White glows with star potential…”
Here’s the gist: in a dystopian alternate reality, two fraternities have colluded with the school president to dominate the campus economy by stealing bicycles from freshmen. The protagonist, a nondescript white male who loved his bike, is inspired to fight back. While the film could have made a positive statement by having “The Freshman” fight against the blatant misogyny of greek life, they chose instead to indict bike thievery as the emblem of evil.
At Film Threat we try to give low-budget productions a break, but production wasn’t the issue here. The script, stuffed with problematic aping (literally) and paper thin symbolism, was hopeless from the beginning. Trite dialogue – “I’m not walking to campus, that’s worse than starving!” – is punctuated by shoddy one-liners – “you’re a bathroom”. More significantly, the consistent lack of sensitivity makes the entire film uncomfortable and occasionally offensive. I understand that this is a revenge film, but saving the girl and converting the black behemoth (thanks, white savior!) does not resolve whatever dark humor was found in implicit rape and stereotyping.
“…lack of sensitivity makes the entire film uncomfortable and occasionally offensive.”
Still, with jingoist fervor, the emcee lauded the film’s focus on race and gender. The writer and director shrugged it off, bragging that social politics hadn’t been their intention with this film. Well guys, maybe next time it should be.
The bright spot was actress Diamond White who plays the defiant photojournalism student seeking to expose the dreadful fraternities and complicit school administration. White, who would have been a better protagonist, glows with star potential. The other performances weren’t bad either, merely casualties of a salacious script.
SPOILER ALERT: In the end, the nondescript white guy gets the sorority girls to fight back – the white savior strikes again! But hey, to be honest, this feels like an anti-frat fantasy that I could have had in college too – minus the black brute caricature.
Rock Steady Row (2018) Directed by Trevor Stevens, Written by Bomani J. Story, Starring Isaac Alisma, Jordan Allen, and Marcus Blake.Rock Steady Row played in Slamdance 2018.
3 out of 10 Oscars