13 June 2012


I remember first reading about Noel Clarke's London 2012 project on the actor/writer/director/Mickey Smith's Twitter page a couple of years ago now, and it puzzled me to no end that Fast Girls is now set during 2011's World Athletic Championship, despite being released in the perfect position to warm up its audience for the imminent Olympic games. As it turns out, the Olympics Committee didn't want the film to use the Olympics branding.

Truth be told, with whatever embarrassingly pro-forma display of Britishness that Mayor Flanimal has planned for the festivities, London 2012 could do a lot worse than to have a disarmingly entertaining, crowd-pleasing film attached to its brand. It's the story of Shania Andrews, a young runner who is delighted to qualify as a representative of Great Britain at the... World Athletics Championship. When she's asked to join Team GB's female relay squad, she immediately clashes with privileged golden girl, Lisa Temple, but has to learn to co-operate if the team has any chance of grabbing gold medals.

Right from the get go, it's not particularly hard to see your way from the beginning to the end of Fast Girls. It's a sports movie, and the tropes are part and parcel of the genre by this point. Some have subverted the tropes and exceeded what this film does, but plenty more have stuck doggedly to the playbook and come in much weaker too. From a technical standpoint, this is another film that establishes Clarke as a commercial screenwriter at the top of his game- from completely the other end of the scale, he has sci-fi horror Storage 24 hitting cinemas in a few weeks, and his writing here, in collaboration with co-writers Jay Basu and Roy Williams, is reliably distinctive and well-structured.

Many of the all-time great sports movies are about strength of character, so it's fitting that this one has a wealth of strong, well-rounded characters to carry out the familiar motions. Lenora Crichlow, off the back of a magnificent run on Being Human, is terrific as Shania, a likeable character who constantly seems to be doing the wrong things and upsetting the wrong people, and all the while being very easy to root for. Elsewhere, Lisa, played by Lily James, isn't a pantomime posho antagonist, but a character with an interesting motivation behind her demeanour, which is particularly well played in the scenes she shares with her pushy father, played by Rupert Graves.

It's a bit more of a departure though, that we're looking at a female-led film in a traditionally male dominated genre. It shakes up the usual conflicts and lessons about teamwork, insofar as that women interact with one another differently, so the conflict and competitiveness never seems artificial, or thrown in, in anticipation of a third act turnaround. It's certainly less self-conscious about having female leads than Clarke's, which came in for some flack on account of scenes designed to appeal to his core male audience. I believe now, as I did then, that Clarke does write young women well. He actually seems to have a good knack for writing young people, full stop- which is just the same, once you appreciate that women aren't exactly another species either.

Fast Girls genuinely put a smile on my face, and it suceeds entirely at being a rousing watch, within the familiar framework of sports movies. It's fairly light, and there certainly isn't as much deliberation on Shania's class background than in Clarke's previous films. By his own performance as the relay team's long-suffering coach, he actually points out the difference with this film. After a few more antagonistic performances of late, it's possible to forget that he's such a likeable screen presence. Similarly, this broader, more energetic film is a welcome bit of homespun cinema, ahead of a summer in which I mostly plan to grumble about the Olympics.

Fast Girls is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Fast Girls, why not share your comments below? On another Olympics-related movie note, I wonder if I have to review whatever Daniel Craig's involvement in the opening ceremony will be, for BlogalongaBond...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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