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I was lucky enough to get to see this little gem at the Dallas Film Festival this past weekend. This is just one of those films that you have to put complete faith in that it will be good. There are no big names attached to this film and it has no big production power behind it. But it doesn't need any of that because it is simply a great film. It is a strange little coming of age story about a young boy named Julius, played by the stoically excellent Ryan Akin. Julius is a very bright boy who is currently studying worms for his school science fair. But he is dealing with a lot of things in his life much more difficult than studying worms. His mother is dating the principal of his school, he and his girlfriend Shiley aren't sure about where they want to take their relationship next, his grandfather may be having an affair, and to top it all off his biological father might be a homosexual, but he doesn't know because he hasn't seen the man in years. This film is a very mature and very sophisticated look at life, love, adultery, and acceptance, all through the eyes of children, a lens film rarely looks through.
Five Time Champion is a very sophisticated film, but it doesn't take itself too seriously. It does a great job at being an often times quirky film that is filled with plenty of great laugh out loud moments. But the purpose and deeper meaning of the film is never lost amidst the joking. This is a very quiet film most of the time. It's somber and somewhat bittersweet, but has a lot of heart. You fall in love with the characters and they all carry a great story which is essentially character driven. All of the characters provide their own little quirks and all of their outlooks on life drive the story and keep its meaning close to the heart. The characters excellently cover a wide age range. You have the kids of the film, Julius and Shiley mostly, who give the film its innocence but also provide most of its maturity. The kids in this film are very bright and very intellectual and their view of the world is often times more profound than the adults of the film whose world views are shrouded by years of angst and experience. After the films screening there was a brief Q&A session with the director, producer, and some of the actors. Noell Coet, the girl who plays Shiley, put it best when she said that adults underestimate kids, a theme that is so prevalent in Five Time Champion.
Moving up the age scale there are the various middle aged adults, each of different maturity levels as well as intelligence levels. Dana Wheeler-Nicholson plays Julius' mother who fights a constant struggle throughout the film. She fights for the love and acceptance of her son, as well as pleasing herself and doing what she wants to do, which at first is to marry Melvin, Julius' rich principal, but she later wants to do other things. Other, slightly less moral things involving Levi, an old friend of hers who is arguably the most fun character of the film. He is the quirkiest and probably the most lovable. But he never falls by the wayside as the simple one dimensional comic relief doofus. His role in the film is key and the relationship he has with Julius compared to the one he has with Julius' mother furthers the points of a child's maturity and understanding of the real world and the human balance of what we want to do and what we should do.
Lastly, there is a side story involving Julius' grandparents. His grandmother suspects his grandfather of cheating and we get to watch as their relationship waxes and wanes as they try to keep their life going, as well as support their daughter and grandson. Their story is the smallest of the film, but it has its place and it provides some excellent scenes with some profoundly excellent lines that really make this film as human and real as it is.
Five Time Champion may not seem like much on the outside, but it has a lot to offer on the inside. It is a very smart film with a sharp script, fantastic characters, and great performances by all the actors. For what this film was trying to accomplish, I believe it did an astounding job and really delivered a whole hearted film experience. I look forward to seeing what the director, Berndt Mador, will come up with for his next film to see what all he can improve from the great starting point of his career he has achieved with Five Time Champion. This is just one of those films that can stick with you, and if you don't enjoy it than there is something wrong with your heart.
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