Saturday, July 30, 2011

Maya Indie: All She Can

Weightlifting is one of those sports most people only pay attention to during the Olympics—and even then, not so much. That is something of a problem for Luz Garcia. Since it is not an official varsity sport at UT, the only scholarship money available goes to the winner of the Texas State meet. She will be hitting the gym hard in Amy Wendel’s All She Can (formerly known as Benavides Born at Sundance this year), which is currently screening in New York as part of the traveling Maya Indie Film Series (trailer here).

Garcia competes in the lightweight division, so you would hardly know she bench-presses like a monster from looking at her. She also has solid grades, but her mother’s questionable finances have undermined her hope for financial aid. Scared of taking on more debt, no family member will co-sign a student loan for her. About the only person in her largely Hispanic Texas town who is not enthusiastic about the military, Garcia starts to consider ways to get an added additional edge. That might not help her anger management issues much.

ASC might sound like a clean-and-jerk Rocky, but it does not climax with the big meet. Instead, it flounders about for a while, as Garcia struggles for redemption. Part of that process involves assisting an illegal and her son reunite with her husband in San Antonio. Indeed, it seems Garcia’s actions are intended as a conscious censure of the well-established Mexican-American community, exemplified by her brother-in-law Luis, whom viewers are clearly supposed to be scandalized by their unaccommodating response to illegal immigration. However, when Wendel cranks down the didacticism, ASC and Garcia begin to find themselves, embracing a new sense of personal responsibility and straightening out her life trajectory with the wise counsel of reasonable adults.

Corina Calderon has the right look for the film—attractive but not delicate. She is a compelling presence, even during the melodramatic detour. Julio CĂ©sar Cedillo’s Coach Chapa is also an engaging figure. Indeed, he is a rare movie animal: an authority figure with dedication and integrity. Yet, perhaps Joseph Julian Soria stands out the most for his dynamic, richly nuanced turn as Luis, even if the film is rather ambivalent about his character’s work ethic and respect for law.

Once viewers understand ASC is following the indie template rather than the crowd-rousing sports movie model, they will largely know where it is headed. Still, there are some honest moments and very well developed performances to be found along the way. A pretty good film when not desperately trying to be topical, All She Can screens at the Quad Cinema in New York, once a day through this coming Thursday (8/4), as part of the Maya Indie Film Series.