Try Harder! Review

Directed by Debbie Lum, “Try Harder!” is a documentary film that follows a group of high school students struggling with the college admissions process. The film centers around Lowell High School, the number one ranked public high school in San Francisco, Calif, and a student body of mostly Asian Americans.

Star Students

There are certain students the film focuses on that give the audience key insight to the hardships that students at Lowell face: Ian, Sophia, Rachael, Shea, and Alvan. Each one of these individuals offers great insight on their experience with applying to college. Most notably Ivy League colleges and the difficulty of admission that they represent.

Ian is the type of student that is dead set on being the best of the best. Early on, he mentions that he will work harder than anyone to be better than them. After meeting with a counselor however, this is put to the test when he realizes that some of his peers are putting in even higher quality levels of work than he is.

Sophia is a very involved student, with captain of the tennis team, and editor of the school newspaper being just a couple of her extracurricular activities. She comes off as a hard-working student who is determined to be accepted to all of the colleges she applies to.

Shea and Alvan deal with rejection from the schools of their choice as well, but audiences will feel more for Shea because of the particular situation he has to deal with. By the way, Shea has one of the most heartwarming moments in the film. One that will make viewers very happy.

Rachael may honestly be the real star of the film. This is because her experience has the best development out of all the others. Raised in a single parent household, Rachael deals with high amounts of pressure from her mother. She even explains how her mother can be doubtful about her abilities sometimes.

“When she says, ‘what if you get into Stanford?’ she’s really saying, ‘I’m not expecting you to but what if,’” says Rachael.

Unfair Expectations

This is a recurring theme throughout the film. Every student faces high expectations from parents and seeing the level of pressure they have to endure is sad. Moreover, the film does a good job of making the audience feel for their admission failures. On top of this, the addition of other pressures they face makes for a truly gut-wrenching experience that just keeps twisting the knife.

Speaking of the parents, the addition of their perspective gives more context about their high expectations. Without their side of the story, it’s easy for audience members to dislike them. However, after hearing their reasoning, those high expectations become more understandable. Still, they’re not warranted.

A documentary with great direction, solid editing, and deep, personal stories, “Try Harder!” does an excellent job of depicting the trials and tribulations that high school students go through when applying to the school of their dreams.

Final Score