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Row Row Row Your Shell: Reviewing Boys in the Boat

Time for review of the recent adaptation of Daniel James Brown's Boys in The Boat. Now this is not going to be as in depth as I would like it be as I did not learn about the adaptation until after Christmas. Secondly, I read the book about 6 or 7 years ago, so only a few details stuck with me. Some these details I will point out will be from my mom's memory as I immediately gave it to her to read when I had finished it. Let's talk about general impressions.

I am so glad this was (possibly) the first movie I've seen in theatres since 2020.

The acting was amazing. It was extremely interesting to see how the cast so closely resembled the real people. However, the movie does make it look like the boys did what they did within a year. While it makes for a sort of a feel good story in some ways, it does make it a little too good to be true. It also doesn't make for a lot of time to explore backstories. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to get the heart of the story told in the book. Well, for those who want to skip the spoilers stop reading NOW!

The movie opens with showing an old man watching a boy rowing in a singles shell. The movie then cuts to a flashback to the year 1936. Here, Joe Rantz, the main character, is seen for the first time as he walks from a slim in Seattle to the college. Very early on it is revealed Joe has financial issues as he goes to the office and finds out he owes money for the semester. When he goes to the job board another student remarks that he'd already pursued them and nothing came of it. Luck seems to turn when Roger Morris (I think) mentions that there is job available with the rowing team, if one makes the team. So both men go and register to attempt to make the team. They both do after weeks of training even falling asleep in class. Roger is caught by the teacher, but Joe is saved the embarrassment because Joyce (the girl he likes) hits him with a wad of papers. Joe end up working on a shell with George Pocock. Joe, Roger, and the other 7 men in the JV boat seem to excel during the year while the varsity boat struggles. This will lead the Rowing coach, Al Ulbrickson to make the controversial decision to take the JV boat to the Poughkeepsie Regatta, the bigget race of the year, and the race which determines the Olympic Boat. Joe and his fellow Washington rowers win the race. They have fundraise he money to go to the Olympics. They attend the Olympics and win. Then the movie ends.

While that is the basic plot I want to talk about a few key points about the movie's strengths and weaknesses.

Let's start with a positive. One strength of the movie was that it captured the friendship and teamwork of the Washington JV Boat. From the start, it is obvious Joe and Roger are friends. Overtime, though you can tell just how close the other members are. In the celebration scene after the team wins Poughkeepsie (I think), Bobby Moch encourages, okay maybe more accurately forces, Don Hume to share his musical talents with the crowd of fellow students. While it is quite direct on Moch's part, it is clear without the push from Moch Hume would not have, possibly ever, shared his talents with others. The team work is most apparent when in the races, of course. Hume races the Olympic finals very ill, but again through Moch's encouragement is able to lead the boat to victory. However, while the movie does show these great relationships, there is one major downside which comes to the teamwork aspect and that is the timeline of the events is considerably shortened.

The boys in the Washington boat worked hard for three years to get to the Olympics. With the movie condensing the events into a year, it takes away a bit of the tenacity of these men. It makes it look more like pure luck rather than the outcome of hard work. Additionay, the condensed time frame robs the viewer of seeing the immense propaganda by the Germans. A viewer sees truly very little of the German preparation for the Games which plays a pivotal role in the book. It takes away just how monumental the USA win was. Another issue is that even for Joe there is little back story.

The movie leaves so much each of the rowers backstories out. I understand this on the practical level as it would have made the movie too long. However, at least for, Joe more should have been in. The emotional trauma ofJoe's past is not as palpable in the movie as in the book. One of the only allusions to it is when Joe confronts his dad about him getting left behind at fourteen which happens around the halfway point in the movie. Showing Joe losing his mother at a young age or getting left behind at 14 to go it alone, would have added even more to the emotional weight to the Olympic win. While this may be the case, there is more good to be said about the film.

An overwhelming positive part of the movie is the romance between Joe and Joyce. It is very much a slow burn romance. Joe seems to deny any feelings at the beginning. Then he comes around. A really cute aspect of it is how he doesn't seem to be what Joyce is saying before he leaves to go to Berlin, but then does exactly what she asks (give her a shoutout on the radio) once he is there.

Overall I'd give the movie a 4 out of 5 stars. It gets you invested quick. The characters are incredibly likable. There may be some big drawbacks which is why I don't feel I can give it a 5 star rating, but it still captures the heart of the story. I would highly recommend seeing, at this point more likely streaming, it.


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