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Jessica Darling's older sister gives her the "IT List," a checklist on how to navigate the middle school popularity hierarchy. The instructions appear simple enough to follow, but like life, nothing is as easy as it seems.
McKenna has been such a bright reader up until 4th grade. But she slowly started having problems comprehending what she was reading and it was hard for her to tell her friends that her tutor ,Josie Myers was her reading tutor. Then, her friends wonder if she has a private "Gymnastics" coach. Then an ankle injury sends McKenna's life off track.
McKenna Brooks is in the fourth grade but hopes to be an Olympic gymnast someday. She pushes herself really hard, and Coach Isabelle worries she's not ready for some of the moves she attempts. McKenna's best friend Toulane also aspires to be an Olympic gymnast because her older sister was hurt and lost her opportunity. Correction: Toulane's mother aspires for Toulane to be an Olympic gymnast, and Toulane can't tell her mother how she really feels. Meanwhile, McKenna is having trouble in school, and her parents expect her to improve her grades or no gymnastics. Her teacher Mr. Wu suggests Josie as a tutor. Josie is in a wheelchair, which gives the movie another opportunity for an inspiring story. But even though she is quite friendly and patient, her techniques make McKenna feel like a little child who has to start over. It will be a long road uphill, with plenty of obstacles to overcome.
This movie offers a lot of lessons about responsibility, determination, and the real meaning of friendship. It is kind of preachy but gets the message across with feel-good moments and plenty of humor.
Kerris Dorsey and Ysa Penarejo, as Josie and Toulane respectively, both do a reasonably good job acting, and both have their moments, but one can tell they are acting when they deliver dialogue. Dorsey does a very good job when it is her turn to be frightened, after Josie has been so strong and confident.
Nia Vardalos and Ian Ziering both do okay as McKenna's parents, but they're not quite up to the superior level one might hope for. Vardalos has more to do and does it better.
Jade Pettyjohn, however, becomes McKenna and does an outstanding job. She is so adorable and easy to like.
I didn't know Cathy Rigby could act, but I did not know which one was her. I figured she might be the coach, but she was so good.
The gymnasts also do an excellent job. In McKenna's case, we can't see her face and her hair is slightly different when she is doing her most difficult stunts, so I think we know what that means. It's hard to believe they're just kids. It's a beautiful thing to watch all these kids going through their routines--almost like Esther Williams without the water.
As would be expected for a movie targeting young girls, there's not a lot of music. There is a lot of what young girls think is music. But the movie does offer four exceptions to the rule. There is generic background music which is listenable for someone with my taste. And a song with the lyrics "Breathe in, breathe out" is sort of good. But two of the movie's funniest scenes have good music. One is a hilarious sequence where McKenna tries out different tutors. In another, Toulane behaves like a spy because of her jealousy when McKenna has secrets and other friends. In the library she uses her gymnastics skills to sneak around. The music resembles the "Mission: Impossible" theme.
The movie makes effective use of visual effects and editing, illustrating McKenna's problems with concentration, and dramatically showing her difficulty, through rapid-fire editing, taking a test when she can't remember anything.
This is a very good effort and one that is really worth seeing. There is no offensive content here. Just a few scary scenes, but this is appropriate for all ages.
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