Review: Try Harder! (Sundance 2021)

Title: Try Harder!
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated
Director: Debbie Lum
Starring: The Students of Lowell High School
Runtime: 1 hr 25 mins

What It Is: For many students at Bay Area Lowell High School picking the college to attend is one of their biggest and most important tasks. With a student body that is a majority Asian American, the dreams of the Ivy League aren’t all dependent on hard work or grades. No, unfortunately, stereotypes still play a role. Only a few of these highly intelligent students will get into an Ivy League school. Why? You might ask? This is because Lowell students are seen as test-taking robots. This film is out to show that they are more than just that.

What We Think: This is the first great documentary for 2021. Similar in delivery to last years Boys State which premiered at the very same festival last year. You’re rooting full stop for each kid throughout. You want all of them to get into the school of their choice. When that inevitably doesn’t happen you’re crushed with them. This is a testament to Debbie Lum’s direction. She’s a great documentarian, there’s a love for the story and it’s subject prevelant throughout. The humanization on display is both beautiful and believable.

Our Grade: A, This is absolutely my favorite documentary of 2021 thus far. I found myself in it with the kids, as I mentioned and the whole thing is brilliantly patched together. A true testament to the love and talent of the woman behind the lens. Documentaries live and die by their direction and editing. They don’t have a script and acting to hold them up. This stands on and by it’s people. The stories they tell and how it connects. The inherent problems faced by Asian American students based solely on race are brought to light. I loved how that was navigated. Again, because Lum is a director who truly knew what she wanted to say. Overall an excellent feature and one to check out immediately.

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