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"The Gymnast" Review

Take a look at this DVD cover:

I'd picked this up while looting a closing video store because it looked tawdry and likely to appeal to my prurient interests and it was like 83 cents. Hot Asian chick + promises of girl-girl action = sale! (Yes, I'm a pig, but I know it and that makes it OK.) Anyhoo, I popped it in expecting Skinemax-grade dreck, but instead found an uneven and occasionally cliched little film redeemed by solid performances and a soft touch by writer/director Ned Farr when it matters most. (Oh, grow up!)

Dreya Weber (never heard of her either) plays a middle-aged woman who was once a champion gymnast before an injury dashed her career and hopes of Olympic glory two decades ago. Her husband is an uncommunicative jerk whose idea of foreplay is to turn on the erotic movies cable channel before bed. She works as a masseur and hoping to have a baby though the odds are long and the mister not much of a help.

While working out at a gymnastics gym, a woman spots her and recruits her for a project to create a Cirque de Soleil-type aerial act to take to Vegas. There she meets Addie Yungmee, a dancer and aerial neophyte. They quickly get their skills together and an attraction begins to develop, though as you'd expect when one person is a 40-something married gringa and the other a 20-something closeted lesbian Korean adopted by elderly Jewish folks, there's going to be some problems.

As giggle-inducing as the premise may be to some, the execution is handled much more sensitively than you'd expect. There is not much nudity and very little gauzy - hate to use the word again - Skinemax slap-and-tickling, but the looks and hesitations pop some dimensions into the scenario that ring true. The aerial training and performance scenes are impressive as well, showing the incredible strength is necessary to make gravity-defying acts appear effortless. I know a couple of women who do this sort of stuff and never really thought about all it entails. (The extras reveal the actresses met during a Cher tour they performed and choreographed in 2002.)

Not as good - in fact it's downright terrible - is the portrayal of Dreya's husband. The guy is an ass for the first 2/3rds and when his come-around moment happens, it rings false and plastic and it then veers into another direction. Also, the disappearance of the choreographer who puts this pair together from the story early on is odd. A weird set of convoluted plot twists happen at the end and this has got to one of the stranger end credits sequences I've seen, only seeming to be included to show off Dreya's gymnastics skills by her real-life director husband. However, there are some neat bits of staging and even a scene where they traipse about Dreya's divorcee pal's mansion dressed in corset outfits that appear to have escaped from the "Lady Marmalade" video holds together.

A failing a lot of gay-themed films have is the filmmakers - usually gay themselves - frequently wander away from the general themes of the story into overemphasis on the strictly gay angles. (The Opposite of Sex was particularly egregious.) But Farr gets the points across without pandering or preaching and the duo's relationship is more textured than the surface "girl meets girl; life totally changes" packaging would suggest, like the cover Amazon's page sells:

Alrightee then!

Score: 6/10. Rent it.


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