Ben Hickernell, director of the deeply felt rookie feature Lebanon, PA, is back with his sophomore film, Backwards. It shares a theme with his debut. Namely, that the best way for one facing 30 to resolve his/her existential panic is to help an adolescent overcome hers. It's a pleasant, but not especially dramatic, story about giving up your dream and hatching a new one.
Backwards is set principally in Philadelphia, mostly at the Vesper Boat Club. The film, written by and starring Sarah Megan Thomas, herself a former rower and now an actress, centers on Abi, a quasi-Olympian. At 22 and 26, Abi watched from the sidelines as a Team USA alternate. Will she make the cut this time, or get cut?
When she hears the news that she's three times an alternate, does Abi make like the raisin in the sun? No. Hickernell is too low-key a director and Thomas too low-pressure an actress for Abi to explode.
Instead, she goes into a funk, moves back home with her mother (Margaret Colin), and broods. Where do you shift your gaze when your eyes are no longer on the prize?