In Mark Lewis’ feature film, Strider, Jody (Yelena Friedman) is a young teen in desperate need of direction in life. She lives in a small rural town with her single father, Bill (Scott Lewis), and her two younger, bratty brothers. After her home life gets a little chaotic, Jody finds solace in running.
Today’s escape from reality is a fortuitous one as Jody passes disgraced track coach Hannah (Maggie Alexander) and later a boy from school, Tim (Josiah Schneider), who has had a crush on Jody for some time. Hannah finds herself at a crossroads as she has no one to coach this season and is seriously considering a drastic change in life. But Hannah sees untapped potential in Jody as a runner and attempts to recruit her. Jody says yes, but her father questions her dedication as she’s given up on many hobbies in the past. Then there’s Tim. Jody is falling hard for the dude, and they quickly become a couple, as expressed through their excessive amounts of PDA.
Jody is determined to rise to her potential, and Hannah instills the one thing the young lady needed in life: discipline. It’s tough going, but Jody embraces it. Hannah not only insists on putting Jody through an intense running and conditioning program but demands that Jody follows her diet regimen to the tee.
What I find interesting about Strider are the central conflicts. The external circumstances surrounding the story are rife with conflict that Hollywood would insist on being in big-budget dramas—a single-parent family, a disgraced track coach, an economically depressed community, alcohol issues, teen love gone wrong… the list goes on. Writer/director Lewis refuses to succumb and keeps the story purely about people.
“…Hannah sees untapped potential in Jody as a runner and attempts to recruit her.”
The movie’s conflict comes from within each character. Jody must find direction and purpose and push herself to the limits to achieve it. On the other hand, Hannah sees Jody as her last chance at doing the one thing she loves, coaching. She’s faced with the mistakes she’s made with previous runners in pushing them too far. It’s essential to bring up the inner nature of the story’s conflicts as it directly impacts the character arcs. There isn’t much darkness in the film. The characters — Jody, Hannah, Tim, and Bill — are good, ordinary people. The adults try to live life day-to-day, and their goal is to instill hope and offer a better life to Jody and, to some degree, Tim. Tough love is the running theme.
Strider is very much a good-hearted family film (with copious amounts of swearing). All of the characters mean well and harbor no ulterior motives, which may turn off people who like darkness and tragedy in their stories. The heart of the movie is the relationship between Jody and Hannah.
Yelena Friedman as Jody is terrific. She understands the character perfectly and adds a subtle touch of annoying teenage sass for authenticity. Maggie Alexander is also fantastic as Hannah. She’s stern with small cracks of compassion. When the big conflict occurs, the two are forced to find forgiveness and redemption, which seems like a taboo subject in these times.
As an independent production, I love what Strider accomplished. The great equalizer in film is story, and Mark Lewis tells a beautiful one about regular people, who quite frankly need each other to grow and find meaning. The movie tells a simple, heartfelt, and powerful story. Plus, the cinematography and location are gorgeous. Furthermore, what film about running would be complete without some incredible drone footage?
"…very much a good-hearted family film."