Fast Girls Review
Fast Girls opened in British cinemas on the 15th of June, a full six weeks before the Olympic opening ceremony. Back then it was exactly as it seemed: an opportunistic venture intended – quite shamelessly – to capitalise on the building Olympic optimism. Despite being unable to secure an official endorsement from the IOC (putting phrases such as ‘Team GB’ and even ‘2012’ out of bounds), it channelled that feel-good spirit into an equally feel-good tale about a group of young female athletes in training for the 4x100m relay. The fact that they were competing at the fictional ‘2011 World Championships in London’ didn’t really matter as the associations were plain to see. However, in the weeks since then we’ve the chance to see the real thing: a fortnight of genuine sporting achievement chockfull of the kind of unscripted drama and emotion – and that’s a tough act to live up to.
Placed alongside the considerable highs and occasional lows of London 2012, Fast Girls understandably struggles. But taken on its own terms – as an unashamedly populist and unpretentious slice of entertainment – it’s hard to begrudge the simple pleasures, even if such modest aims rarely see the film rise above the clichéd. Fast Girls prefers to keep things familiar with a combination of sporting rivalry (that also runs along class lines), a touch of chaste romance, an upbeat soundtrack and an against-the-odds finale. At its centre is Lenora Crichlow’s Shania, an up-and-coming 200m runner who lives with her aunt on a London council estate. Her family dramas add a hint of soap opera to proceedings (dad left home and mum died years ago; selfish sister has poor taste in men), but the main narrative thrust is provided by her conflict with fellow sprinter Lisa (played by Lily James), a stereotypically uptight rich girl who’s really just competing for daddy’s affections.
To Crichlow and James’ credit, they bring more to their roles than either deserves. James, in particularly, is mostly required to act sullen and/or spoilt depending on the scene, yet still she manages an engaging enough turn. Similarly the majority of the supporting cast overcome the script’s many risible moments – competing with a hangover at an international race meet? – to deliver a solid bunch of performances. Old hands such as Philip Davis (as Shania’s lovable trainer) and Rupert Graves (as Lisa’s former gold medallist father) are as dependable as you would expect, whilst most of the younger players come with enough TV experience to see them through. (Tiana Benjamin, for example, spent five years on EastEnders.) They can’t stop the clichés, but they can at least attack them with a little hint of quality.
Importantly director Regan Hall sees the ‘fast’ in Fast Girls as an instruction. He rattles through proceedings, seemingly taking his cue from the uptempo (and similarly female-centric) soundtrack. There’s no time to dwell the more tired elements simply because he’s always moving on to the next. At times this can work the film’s disadvantage – plot developments tend to get resolved before they’ve had a chance to build – although, again, the pace is such that you’re likely not to notice. Interestingly Hall was offered the job having impressed with his 2010 short film, 3 Hours. That was a tale of escalating violence based on real-life events that had taken place in Baghdad in 2007. It was also shot entirely on location in Jordan with a local cast and crew. A far cry from female athletics, it would appear, although Fast Girls does share its energy and visual qualities. Indeed, both look highly cinematic despite their low budgets and I suspect this played a key role in Hall getting the job. After all, Fast Girls does have a host of familiar television faces to contend with, Crichlow being best known for the BBC horror-drama series Being Human. To be honest, 3 Hours arguably promised something more than a movie quite so crowd-pleasing as this, but that shouldn’t necessarily be taken as a negative. As a piece of efficient mainstream entertainment Fast Girls does its job perfectly well.
Fast Girls has been released onto Blu-ray in the UK by StudioCanal with a solid enough presentation and average extras. The film comes in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with accompanying DTS-HD 5.1 sound (an LPCM stereo option is available). As should be expected from such a new production the image is blemish free and demonstrates strong colours and contrast levels. Detail is excellent and any issues with regards to the visuals are likely the side effect of it being shot digitally (a couple of interior shots look a tad flat). The soundtrack, meanwhile, copes just fine with the dialogue and the near-permanent musical accompaniment.
Special features consist of five ‘behind the scenes’ featurettes (totalling 25 minutes), a selection of interviews with various cast and crew members, footage from the UK premiere and the original theatrical trailer. All of these have the feel of EPK to them, designed to be handily inserted into magazine programmes and offer nothing but unabashed endorsement. However, there are some interesting elements such as the background into the actors’ strenuous training or the revelation that the entire film was shot in the middle of winter despite requiring its cast to wear skimpy sprinter’s outfits for much of the duration.