The Gymnast, a new film written and directed by Ned Farr, is a drama with a rare kind of beauty and power. Seldom before has a movie about middle age and sexual confusion brought with it such a tangible sense of longing and realism without losing its sense of humor. The Gymnast scores points not only for its resonant storyline and gorgeous choreography, but also for giving visibility to two of the most underrepresented groups in the lesbian film cannon: middle-aged and Asian American women.
The central character is Jane (played by producer Dreya Weber, who starred as dark-haired jock Luce in the 1996 indie lesbian film Everything Relative), a 40ish ex-Olympic gymnast who has lived a life of quiet desperation since an injury curbed her medal hopes. She works as a massage therapist and exercises religiously, instilling the same discipline on her body that she did in her youth. She is trapped in a dreary marriage, with a man she barely speaks to, and seems to survive on anti-depressants.
Though Jane’s life at the beginning is bland and dull, Jane herself is a passionate, dedicated person, and an immediately likeable character. She throws herself into her training, working hard to preserve the body that can no longer naturally bear children. Jane’s relationship with her body is a tenuous one, despite her fitness and formidable strength; she feels that it has now failed her twice. She’s searching for something to rekindle the fire from her past, and she serendipitously takes a trip to a gym in town to reconnect.
Enter Nicole, a coach who is developing a cirque du soleil-esque acrobatic act. Nicole recruits and trains Jane and the graceful Serena (Addie Yungmee) to be part of the show, and soon enough, the pair is flying stylishly through the air. It doesn’t take long to realize the chemistry developing between the two, as there’s much more boiling beneath the surface than either of them initially lets on.
These early sequences are among the best in the film, highlighting Jane’s newfound sense of freedom and realization; she is finally doing something she loves again. Adding to this happiness is the carefree, exuberant Serena, a younger woman who awakens something utterly new in Jane. As the two spend more and more time together training alone for their act, the sexual tension builds and builds until they finally kiss, in a breathy scene that just begs to be fulfilled.
Throughout the film, Jane seeks the counsel of her friend and former teammate, Denise, a fiery and free-spirited soul with a West Hollywood mansion and an unlimited supply of wine, chocolate, and advice. Denise encourages Jane to act on her feelings, to pursue the dream of performing in Las Vegas, and to pursue romance outside of her marriage.
It is Denise’s advice to “sex up the show” upon seeing their act, and Denise’s money that buys the costumes for Jane and Serena. Allison Mackie is perfect in the role, acting as both the caring best friend and the devil on Jane’s shoulder who tempts her to go just a bit further.