No Woman To Try review: Too simplistic a sports documentary

It could even have been a podcast episode and been equally effective
No Woman No strikes an emotional chord, but also falls under its own weight and ambition
No Woman No strikes an emotional chord, but also falls under its own weight and ambition

Sports and strength go hand-in-hand. Perhaps the best sports documentaries are not really about the sport itself. Be it Senna or Free Solo, where the sport becomes a tool to gauge an individual’s passion and perseverance, or a rather expansive Fire in Babylon or Next Goal Wins, where synergy, team spirit, and the dynamics between individuals hold more weight. Of course, we also get to see something as powerful as Athlete A once in a while, which demystifies the intricacies of trauma and the disturbing repercussions of something terrible like sexual harassment in sports. Victoria Rush’s No Woman No Try tries to fit itself into all the aforementioned categories, and this is both a boon and bane.

It wants to be expansive yet personal; it tries to portray both larger and smaller challenges faced by female rugby players; it wants to empower and preach at the same time. This duality, however, yields mixed results because in the process of aiming for comprehensiveness, the documentary loses specificity.

That’s not to say that No Woman No Try fails to strike an emotional chord, it does, but it falls under its own weight and ambition. The documentary touches upon several challenges orbiting women’s rugby. The challenges are numerous, both on a holistic level (lack of personalised sports kits and uniforms for women, for instance) and personal level (a player with a history of bullying in her childhood due to manly appearance). The documentary succeeds to an extent in creating an effective image of these women, who have to overcome challenges both on—and off-field. The film rests on the idea that women have to struggle more than men to succeed at something that’s innately physically demanding like rugby, and it stays true to its intent from start to finish, never digressing from the subject matter.

The structure, however, is consistently formulaic. A moment of low is immediately followed by an inspiring sequence, and this is a pattern the film sticks to. We can also see the filmmaker go for close-ups, slowing down a few moments, and even employ dramatic music to evoke the intended emotion. While every documentary tries to influence our emotions, this one tries to manipulate you. Social media and its effects are also explored albeit cursively, like most of the angles the film tries to address. The biggest conundrum (or advantage, one may argue?) with No Woman No Try is, that perfunctory viewings won’t hinder the experience. It could even have been a podcast episode and been equally effective. That’s because of its formulaic nature that communicates its intentions verbally, and its oversimplification of what in reality is a complex subject.

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