Try Harder! Image

Try Harder!

By Hanna B. | September 26, 2021

Try Harder! doesn’t seek to represent all high schoolers. It presents seemingly average high-achievers who are neither legacy nor rich or celebrity children able to pay their way in whether through overpriced private tutoring, connections, or “other means.” In fact, the movie reaches an entirely different demographic by happening in a public school and following kids from either hard-working families able to afford to pay for their educations or get loans to do so, and kids in heartbreaking familial situations having to rely exclusively on scholarships.

Aside from allowing viewers to get to know the students in and out of school, the film tackles other subjects specific to the fact that Lowell is a public school primarily attended by minorities particularly of Asian descent; hence perceived a certain way. Also, participants don’t shy away from topics surrounding the bias and prejudices of the admissions/ submission processes or the plain bigotry they face every day. It is indeed a lot to pack in a handful of scenes for a short documentary, seemingly wanting to focus on the life of a senior; maybe they could have tried harder!

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

“…filled with sincere, humorous, and intimate scenes without feeling voyeuristic.”

Simultaneously, simply touching upon these subjects via “casual” or brief discussions people are having about the issues without them being at the forefront was also satisfying because we already know that life is unfair. Most students also know that, and if they don’t know the full extent of life’s beauty and viciousness, then trying to get into ivy league schools will teach them good. Seeing these deserving children fighting over so few spots makes one question why society is so elitist. The feature will make audiences question their choices and preconceived ideas.

Try Harder! allows us to be with these compelling students in and out of the classrooms, interacting with teachers, peers, and families. Lum balanced everything well as the film is filled with sincere, humorous, and intimate scenes without feeling voyeuristic. The teens are aware of the camera and are comfortable being exposed and vulnerable. It is just enough to give one a glimpse into their lives and make one root for them, but it leaves you wanting to know more, and more importantly, what’s happening next. Additionally, with its bittersweet ending, Try Harder! will leave every non-highschooler who had grand ambitions with a lot of nostalgia while possibly making current highschoolers feel understood and maybe provide them some catharsis.

Try Harder! screened at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and the 2021 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

Try Harder! (2021)

Directed and Written: Debbie Lum

Starring: Debbie Lum, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

Try Harder! Image

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

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