Review of “The Gymnast”


Dreya Weber, Mam Smith, and Addie YungmeeJane soon finds herself in very new territory, with all of the messy complications one would expect. Jane has always seen herself as straight, and she's never had feelings for another woman before (“Isn't it a bit late?' Denise quips, quoting Jane's age yet again), so she's unsure of how to act.

She confronts Serena after their kiss, telling her,“I'm so sorry, it'll never happen again. I'm not… gay, if you were wondering.” Serena replies. “Well, I am.” A relationship is born, with all the heady glory of forbidden love. Jane is torn between Serena and her husband (David), who has suddenly decided that he's changed his mind about having a baby.

As melodramatic as this may sound, it's all played out very realistically, from Jane's teenager-like awkwardness on the phone with Serena, to her double-take at David's sudden change of heart. This is a woman who's had her life turned upside down, and Weber plays her with alternating tenacity and hesitance.

As an examination of sexual awakening and the complications that arise, The Gymnast is unmatched. Serena, despite being the younger of the two, is confident and experienced. She is perfect as Jane's object of affection, a smart, sexy, competent partner. David is the polar opposite, but he represents the stability and life that Jane has always known, as well as the last chance for her to have a child. Realistically, Jane hesitates between the two.

The film also does an excellent job of highlighting the parallel journeys upon which Serena and Jane embark. While Serena is gay, she is closeted to the extreme (she even remarks that she'd rather die than come out to her aging parents). The two make a pact that is symbolic of their struggle: Jane will tell her husband about Serena, and Serena will come out to her parents. This is the first big test of their fledgling relationship, and Jane's hesitance all but ruins their chances.

This isn't to imply that The Gymnast is one giant soap opera. The film is presented with a light touch, never wavering too long on a dramatic close-up or venturing too far into melodramatic territory. It also allows its characters to lighten up and joke with one another, showcasing a wicked sense of humor.

In one uproarious scene, Serena shocks a masseuse with her outrageous nipple-piercing, and in another, the two women frolic around Denise's empty mansion in crazy “Lady Marmalade” costumes. These light moments serve to break up the unbearable tension between the characters and allow Jane (and the audience) to breathe and enjoy the moment.

Similarly, the dance/acrobatics scenes are testament to the beauty of motion and freedom. Jane's awakening is all-encompassing, it is spiritual, physical and sexual, and these sequences render each aspect with grace and whimsy, without ever getting pretentious. They are, quite simply, a joy to watch.

The Gymnast is a beautiful, understated film. Often, movies that attempt to examine a character's sexual awakening fall into cliché, but The Gymnast rises above to deliver something more. Jane's struggles are resonant, the complications of her life feel realistic, and her performances are inspiring. Moreover, it is refreshing to see a film that features actresses that aren't uniformly white and in their twenties playing lesbian roles.

Ultimately, the movie is triumphant because it stays true to itself and its characters. The Gymnast ends on an appropriately wistful and satisfying note, capping off a film that is uniquely real and alive.

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