Sisters on Track (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): Running for better life

Netflix documentary film “Sisters on Track”, which was released on last Thursday, looks into one important period of three young African American girls ready to try their best with their considerable athletic ability. Although their darkest time was over, these three girls still needed to train and work harder for making their life better, and it is often touching to see the earnest efforts from them and several adults supporting them.

They are Tai, Rainn, and Brooke Sheppard, and the early part of the documentary tells us about how their life was dramatically changed in 2016. During that time, they and their mother Tonia Handy had to stay together in a homeless shelter in New York City after losing their house, but then they suddenly received lots of public attention as the girls had demonstrated their promising potentials as junior runners on tracks and fields. After their remarkable wins at the Junior Olympics in that year, the girls were named ““SportsKids of the Year” by Sports Illustrated Kids magazine, and they and their mother were also invited to a talk show hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, where they received a surprise gift from Tyler Perry’s charity foundation.

That gift in question was a nice little apartment in the city whose two-year rent was already paid off in advance by Perry’s foundation. While the girls and their mother cannot help but excited as looking around inside their new home, they are all well aware of that how quickly two years can pass, and they are certainly not going to waste this precious opportunity which may lead them to a better life in the future.

As Tonia begins to search for any suitable job to enable her to pay the rent after the following two-year period, the girls continue to focus on honing their athletic abilities more under Coach Jean E. Bell, a no-nonsense African American middle-aged lady who works as an administrative law judge in addition to devoting her remaining time to mentoring and guiding many young African American girls in the Jeuness Track Club in Brooklyn. Besides often giving these young girls tough motivation and gentle support along with her sister who has also worked as a coach, Coach Jean often have meetings with these young girls’ parents, and the parents all listen to Coach Jean’s wise and sensible advices on how to get their children more opportunities for better education and life through their children’s growing athletic abilities. If their children keep training hard under Coach Jean’s guidance, they may distinguish themselves more on tracks and fields, and that will probably lead them to those precious scholarships for good high schools and colleges.

Of course, the situation sometimes becomes problematic because of a number of setbacks in front of our three young heroines. At one point, Coach Jean sharply points out to Rainn on how Rainn has not studied well at her school, and Coach Jean gives Rainn a little but significant penalty for that. When Tai happens to make a little trouble which could result in a far more serious consequence, Coach Jean makes sure that Tai will never forget that at all, and the camera silently captures how painful this hard lesson is to Tai.

Meanwhile, another season eventually comes, and the girls and the other members of the Jeuness Track Club soon go through a number of important competitions while continuing their training as usual. Because Rainn and Tai are soon going to move onto high school education, they really need to excel themselves in these competitions for winning some prizes and then getting the scholarships, and the documentary naturally generates some suspense when Rainn late has to deal with her minor physical injury.

Behind her three girls, Tonia slowly moves forward to self-sustained status. She eventually gets a good job, and she is more determined to do her best for her dear three girls. As a woman who was pretty unfortunate in case of her boyfriends, she chose to focus more on her children, and we come to know a bit about how much her three daughter means to her. Especially after losing her only son due to a tragic incident, she and her daughters have stuck together more, and the documentary often captures how strong and loving this mother and daughter relationship is.

Directors/writers Tone Grøttjord-Glenne and Corinne van der Borch try a bit too hard during a later part where their three young heroes really have to try their best during on big competition, and the documentary also stumbles more than once as throwing sudden narrative turns around that point, but it still keeps engaging us with genuine human moments to observe and appreciate. Several scenes among our three young heroes are often sweet and playful, and you may wish more of such moments for getting to know them more. In addition, the documentary often finds some amusement from Coach Jean’s practical teaching and guidance, and we get a little humorous scene where she gives her girls a very frank and straightforward lesson on their certain developing body part.

On the whole, “Sisters on Track” is a fairly nice documentary which presents its human subjects with enough sincerity and respect. I wish it delved more into those difficulties and uncertainties they experienced during that two-year period, but the overall result is still worthwhile to watch at least, and I sincerely hope that the girls will keep running toward their bright future.

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