While the experience of the students at Lowell High School is many standard deviations from my own, its exploration is an empathy trip, nevertheless. The college application process has become increasingly rigorous and the competition for top tier schools is tight. The teens in Try Harder! have centered their entire high school experience around joining the “right” clubs, making the “correct” connections and constantly seeking perfection in the name of “Stanford”. Granted, Lowell kids aren’t your average students, but their plight is shared by so many teens today.
Try Harder! reminds us how relieved we are that high school is over
Filmmaker Debbie Lum, takes us on an eye-opening anxiety ride (I do mean that kindly) that follows 5 students with very different familial and socioeconomic backgrounds. Beyond that, the film explores the realities of racial bias and its role in educational opportunities. For a moment, we get a peek into these teens lives and boy, it’s stressful.
Catching up with filmmaker Debbie Lum
I had mentally prepared for Rob to unknowingly alienate me from the conversation as he and Lum exchanged “Thurston Howell” chuckles about the good-old-days of being in advanced high school programs. To be clear, this premonition didn’t come from a place of insecurity, but rather born of Try Harder!’s connectedness to “nerd culture” in high performing schools.
But I was wrong (you can blame that on my 23 I got on the ACT). Lum’s intimate portrait of high school’s many intense pressures was really just the work of an experienced filmmaker. In fact, her experience was much like mine. Sorry Rob.
We hope you enjoy the conversation as much as we did – you can check out Try Harder! when it releases on February 12, 2021.
Catch our podcast interview with Debbie Lum!
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