Overcomer is more than another sports encouragement movie. It was excellent! —a moving picture with significant themes presented with humor and pathos.
The basic plot was a coach (John Harrison played by Alex Kendrick) who loses his promising basketball team and is stuck coaching one person—a young girl with asthma (Hannah Scott played by Aryn Wright-Thompson)—in cross-country racing (a sport the coach knows nothing about). This is one theme, how he helped her succeed in racing. Both coach and athlete persevere to win. As Principal Olivia Brooks (played by Priscilla Shirer) says, “One runner matters!” In other words, you only need one runner to succeed, and a race is won racing past one person at a time. Or, as the apostle Paul wrote, “Run in such a way that you may win the race” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
Another theme is good relations between white and black people. A white couple become mentors to a black girl, but then a black principal oversees all three. This theme is presented in a subtle but clear manner. The movie reminds us that Christians living now need to foreshadow heaven by creating community with people from all ethnicities (Revelation 7:9).
A third theme is the need for communication and especially forgiveness between all people, including Christians. The couple, John and Amy Harrison (played by Shari Risby), talk and pray together when they disagree. The father (Thomas Hill played by Cameron Arnett) who abandoned his wife and daughter is transformed and seeks forgiveness from his family members. Indeed, they confess their sins to one another and pray for one another so that they may be healed (James 5:16).
A fourth theme is a comment on child-rearing. The young sons observe the parents’ interaction and learn from them the need to be humble. True masculinity and femininity is humble. Men can ask for forgiveness and women can be assertive.
A fifth theme is the elevation of the worth of very ill people and those with disabilities. The blind father, who is dying, is able to pray, communicate, evangelize and mentor others. The runner with both physical and emotional disabilities is able to overcome them. In other words, as Jesus preaches, the meek can inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).
A sixth theme is the need for half-committed Christian lay people to become completely committed to Christ and to see their commitment to Christ as essential to their very being because if their job is their major self-identification, events outside their control can seize and affect their very being. The movie asks: “What do you allow to define you?”
At its heart, this is a refreshing woman’s empowerment movie. A young girl is empowered to succeed as a runner and become a whole person. A woman can be the principal in charge and do an excellent job. Male teachers respect her leadership and comply with her directives. Girls can model on such women and become themselves effective champions, principals, leaders, evangelists, reconcilers, and homemakers.
Although the basic theme was not a new one (the coach who mentors an athlete—or team—to succeed), yet it had many surprising turns. The prodigal father returns to his home town seeking forgiveness. The younger daughter and the older grandmother need to be forgiving. Instead of a father with two sons, as in Jesus’s parable (Luke 15:11-32), the prodigal “son” is the father and the “elder son” is the grandmother. This prodigal “son” also goes away to a “distant country” and squanders all his property in “dissolute living” (15:13). He becomes a needy person (15:14) when he receives the ramifications of his dissolute living in his own body and his relationships. The “Father” of the earthly father is God before whom he sinned, who, with compassion, forgives him (15:19-21). The celebration is the father’s new-found relationship with his heavenly Father (15:22-24). The grandmother (Barbara Scott, played realistically by Denise Armstrong) plays the part of an angry “elder son” who refuses to forgive the prodigal father, Thomas, because of all the harm he has done (15:28). The prodigal father was lost and has been found, spiritually he was dead and has come to life (15:32), but will that new life be accepted by those he hurt?
The acting is marvelous and effectively moving. Cameron Arnett does an emotive and believable part as the transformed father (Thomas Hill). Priscilla Shirer plays a firm but approachable high school principal (Olivia Brooks). Her bringing the young girl to faith is attractively done. The coach, John Harrison (Alex Kendrick) and his wife, Amy Harrison (Shari Rigby) and the runner, Hannah Scott (Aryn Wright-Thompson) all are believable, reminding us of people we have known throughout our lives. Alex Kendrick brings humor and vulnerability to his role. Everyone plays her and his part well. In addition, the music was well chosen as an accompaniment.
Overcomer is not an allegory, word by word copy of Jesus’s parable, rather, it is an allusion to the parable with its own surprising twists. It is a call for the need to become Christian but without the traditional seeker going to a revival meeting or to a pastor for the climatic evangelistic conversation. And it is not up to the male protagonist to solve every problem. The verisimilitude in this movie is commendably strong.
We highly recommend the movie as edifying and encouraging and emotionally moving. The audience in Massachusetts was most enthusiastic about the movie too, clapping at key turning points and especially at the end.