Dir.: Julie Wyman
Featuring: Cheryl Haworth
76 min. (Documentary)
It's hard to write a negative review of Strong! the film, because I'm so impressed by Cheryl Haworth the person. A champion weightlifter with two Olympic games (including a Bronze medal) under her belt, Strong! follows Ms. Haworth as she strives to compete in her third Olympics (the 2008 Beijing games). Of course, Ms. Haworth has accomplished a tremendous amount already in her chosen sport by the time the film's story begins -- and, as we learn, has sacrificed a good amount to reach those goals.
But for all Ms. Haworth's successes and struggles, Strong! fails to tell a compelling story.
The entire film is similarly low-key. Strong! is character- rather than plot-driven. There are no human adversaries for Ms. Haworth to overcome, and the only obstacle to her success are the limits of her own natural talents and how hard she can push herself. And while, in other hands, this internal struggle could give rise to a vital story, director Julie Wyman fails to find a sufficient narrative hook. Although I respect her decision not to engage in cheap theatrics, there's simply not enough substance onscreen to sustain even this 75 minute film. Arnold Schwarzenegger may have played up his bad-boy role in Pumping Iron (1977) to the point of fiction, but he made a worthy villain; there is a reason why people still remember that move thirty-five years later.
Indeed, the most compelling moment in the movie comes not from Cheryl, but from her mother, Sheila Haworth, when she discusses how proud she is of her daughter's accomplishments. Sheila Haworth explains that, when she was younger, the only acceptable life path for women was "you get a job at a bank, you get married, have babies." She then describes how, when Cheryl began lifting weights, Cheryl was so talented, and so far beyond even the boys competing in the same meet, that one parent started "complaining abut Cheryl, that she was intimidating her sons." Sheila's response? "I just wish [weightlifting] were there when I was young."
If only that level of on-screen fire were on display in the rest of Strong! as well.