Someday, someone will make a movie in which the protagonist seizes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and doesn’t blow it off to coach and/or root for younger people at an inconveniently timed competitive event. “Backwards” is not that movie. Passably pleasant but thoroughly predictable, the pic is a self-constructed star vehicle for scripter, producer and lead player Sarah Megan Thomas. She portrays a former Olympic hopeful who gets a job as rowing coach at her alma mater, and must decide between accompanying two students to an overseas match or grabbing one last chance to go for the gold herself. Homescreen platforms beckon.
Under Ben Hickernell’s workmanlike direction, Thomas persuasively plays Abigail Brooks, who has devoted her life to training for Olympic rowing, but quits the U.S. team after her coach (Glenn Morshower) once again names her an alternate instead of placing her “in the boat.” Back home in Philly, and on the verge of 30, Abigail heeds advice from her workaholic mom (Margaret Colin) to get on with her life, and returns to Union Academy, her former high school, to work as rowing coach.
After a slightly rocky start, she reignites a romance with an old flame (James Van Der Beek), now the school’s athletic director, and brings out the best in two promising competitors (Alexandra Metz, Meredith Apfelbaum) whose oaring ability may take them all the way to a prestigious race in England. But just before they depart for the U.K., Abigail gets a call from her former coach.
Metz and Apfelbaum make agreeable impressions, even though their characters are ciphers. (There’s a fleeting attempt in a single scene to suggest one of the characters’ parents may be on the verge of divorce — or are, at the very least, prone to yelling at each other a lot — but nothing comes of this.) Van Der Beek and Colin fare slightly better, with less screen time, in marginally better-defined roles.
Tech credits are OK, but the rowing scenes are, surprisingly, mostly unremarkable.