The Novice is one young woman’s intense, obsessive struggle to the be the best rower on her college rowing team, even though she was a novice rower. Isabelle Fuhrman plays Alex with a taut, nervy brilliance that never flags, never relaxes. The film jumps immediately into Alex’s obsessive personality in the first scene showing her way of taking an exam. The pressure she puts on herself never lets up.
The Novice was written and directed by Lauren Hadaway. Hadaway uses Isabelle Fuhrman in powerful ways, but it isn’t just the good acting in this film. The sound track, the inner noise in Alex’s mind, the fuzzed out conversations, the broken images – everything works together exceptionally well to create a portrait of Alex’s troubled mental state. The way the camera follows Alex’s body is important as well. It shows her sweat, her bloody blisters, her shaky legs, her self punishment, her sex partners.
Alex and a teammate, Jamie (Amy Forsyth), are both friends and rivals. Jamie needs to succeed for a scholarship. Alex is driven to succeed by her own inner demons.
Alex’s only infrequent release is to go out drinking and bring home a sex partner. She’s with a couple of men but forms a longer term relationship with the TA from her physics class, Dani (Dilone).
She works obsessively hard. As a freshman and a novice, she shouldn’t expect to be on the varsity team, but she makes sure she’s good enough. Her two coaches are Coach Pete (Jonathan Cherry) and Coach Edwards (Kate Drummond).
The people around her, Dani, her coaches, everyone tries to help her. But they really can’t. She tunes out everything except the pulsing need in her head to be the best, be number one. She needs a mental health professional but she’s a long way from seeking that kind of help.
The Novice is tense and electric and disturbing. It’s also really good. So many specifics about the film are outstanding. It all fits together as expert storytelling. The ending was unexpected, a surprise.
The film is on Netflix and Prime Video. I watched it on Netflix and the close captions didn’t match up with the audio, which makes getting the most out of the actor’s work really difficult. If you need close captions, I hope the audio track and the close captions have been resynced when you take a look.