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Try Harder!

By Hanna B. | January 30, 2021

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Try Harder! by Debbie Lum follows five seniors attending Lowell High School in San Francisco (one of the top public schools in the U.S.) as they make one of the most crucial decisions of their lives: planning their futures by applying to the most prestigious post-secondary institutions. The students are from various walks of life and have different ambitions, but they face the same dilemmas strategizing their next moves and thinking about where they want to go next, all while trying to get good and life-defining grades.

The real question is where could one go, and in fact, at this point in their short, brilliant lives, there is not much they can do but write memorable application essays because everything they did before, good or bad, is sadly already accounted for. Likewise, teenagers know that society and the elite colleges’ recruiting process they are dreaming of already decided their fates long ago. A destiny they, rightfully, believe is dictated by their academic curriculum, special activities, or extra courses and their life outside of school and their ethnicity.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

“…they make one of the most crucial decisions of their lives: planning their futures by applying to the most prestigious post-secondary institutions.”

The documentary demonstrates that contrary to popular beliefs, it is not all about what one’s stereotypical “tiger mom” or “helicopter parents” want, but for some kids, acceptance to places like Harvard or Yale is a genuine aspiration. These adolescents are conscious that their dreams could become a reality if they attend (and graduate from) first-class institutions. Otherwise, they will be left with just pipe dreams. It is sadly true now, but it was always the case. The probability of buying your perfect house or maybe just living comfortably debt-free is based on doing the right thing in these few determining years of your life. However, as candidly pointed by a participant, we live in a much more challenging and competitive world, but thankfully students are more aware and determined to succeed. 

This mentality that was just a decade ago still viewed as “geek,” “do-gooder,” or even ironically “loser,” is now the new normal and all the rage. So watching Try Harder! might make you feel good about that and seeing how all these students, no matter their circumstances at home, are well-adjusted and not necessarily suffering terribly under pressure. This warm feeling is helped with the sweetness and honesty of its cast and its main guy bringing some unexpected fun realism to various issues. We can sleep better now, knowing the kids are not only alright but better than their predecessors!

Try Harder! (2021)

Directed and Written: Debbie Lum

Starring: Debbie Lum, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

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"…will leave every non-highschooler who had grand ambitions with a lot of nostalgia..."

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