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Most of us have learned, especially as we grow older, that often times it’s less about being the best at something and more about just accomplishing what we set out to do. It could be finally learning how to play an instrument, getting that old family recipe right, beating a video game on the hardest setting, or finishing a race. With TRI, a new independent film, that race is a triathlon and it pushes one woman to discover there are more barriers in her life to overcome than just crossing the finishing line.
Natalie (Jensen Jacobs) works in a darkened corner of the hospital as a medical ultrasound technician. She seems to enjoy the dimly lit isolation. That is until she has a deeper conversation with cancer patient Candice (Shawn Pelofsky), who is upbeat and motivated despite her fate. She encourages Natalie to consider getting outside more and entices her to give a triathlon a shot, an event she and the company she works for are sponsoring. Natalie agrees to try.
We next meet Skyler (Walker Hays), Natalie’s best friend and Rex (Jaylen Moore), Natalie’s husband who reveal that, if there is anything distinctive about Natalie, it is her penchant for starting something but rarely finishing. That includes everything from medical school to pizza slices. This time though, she swears, it’s going to be different, and to help keep her word, Skyler joins her in training, even though neither have done anything like it before. And so, they take up the task, meet inspiring others, and face the hardest challenge of their lives.
Directed by Jai Jamison, in his feature length debut, TRI doesn’t mince words in delivering its message, from the start making this about the courage it takes to face cancer, even with those on the sidelines in support. It is this aspect of the story that makes it hard not to get behind, even if it is a theme that has had countless voices in movies for decades. Jamison does best in keeping this part of the film sincere though, a choice that often many larger productions fail to do, over-simplifying and over-dramatizing for effect. Natalie competes to honor her friend Candice, and we get to know more about Candice, but this is Natalie’s story and ultimately as such, she is defined by more than the cancer survivor she races to support.
That said, this is packaged from opening to close as an uplifting story and by all efforts, it works hard to be that. From its music to its dialogue to many scenes that have those on the team that run like Natalie, speak about loved ones (or are in fact those in recession), to give more punch to the already impactful theme. Still, there’s no denying the emotional payoff that is of course inevitable, but well-earned.
That’s mostly due to a natural performance from Jacobs who carries the story and keeps it centered. This isn’t a film about a gifted athlete who is fighting for a second chance or some hackneyed comeback kid victory. Natalie is just a medical tech in need of breaking past a few unseen walls. Jacobs captures this everywoman-esque quality with a quite, authentic portrait that, while the script forces a few extra hurdles that might not have been necessary, given the triathlon itself being challenge enough, is the heart of the film. She’s very good in getting us to stick with her, having many identifiable traits we the audience can connect with. I liked Pelofsky as well, a Star Trek fan who is incredibly brave. There is also a small cameo from veteran television star Tim Reid, who may play an obvious part, but is fun to watch.
The film doesn’t handle comedy quiet so well, with Natalie’s friend Sklyar left to fill that entire gap, which keeps her the jokey part for the entire story. Hays has natural comedic timing but it’s unfortunate that she given little else to do. So too with a few other characters who are not played for laughs but fill time with a little too much earnestness, even if presented with genuine affection.
TRI is an uncompromising story that for many will be a moving tribute to the cause it presents, as well it should be. It is clearly a work of personal passion by many involved. For tri-athletes, bikers, swimmers, and runners, it has lots too offer as well in terms of what it’s like to be a part of something that is so important to those who participate. Having once been a long-distance and marathon runner, I easily identified with these aspects of the story as well. TRI is a solid film about strong women and strong ideas, and is a promising debut for Jamison.
TRI releases on VOD December 13.
Director: Jai Jamison
Writers: Theodore A. Adams III
Stars: Jensen Jacobs, Shawn Pelofsky, Walker Hays