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posted by Nell Minow

CONTEST_KA_R5.indd“Contest” more than makes up for some first-time-filmmaker shortcomings with its sincerity and unexpected strengths in the storyline and cinematography.

Tommy (Danny Flaherty) is a high school loner, often bullied by the swim team jocks led by Matt (Kenton Duty).  Both boys do not have parents.  Tommy lives with his grandmother (“The Good Wife’s” Mary Beth Peil), who owns a pizzeria.  Matt lives with his older brother Kyle (Kyle Dean Massey).

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When security camera footage of the swim team throwing Tommy into the pool lets Matt in trouble, the assistant principal tells him that if he can make friends with Tommy and lead the anti-bullying campaign for 30 days, he can be reinstated in his extra-curricular activities.  Tommy is not interested at first, but when he is selected for a television teen cooking show competition and needs teammates to try for the $50,000 prize, he grudgingly accepts Matt’s help.

Meanwhile, the young, arrogant landlord who owns the pizzeria’s lease wants to get her out.  Tommy’s brother Kyle is given the assignment of making sure she cannot exercise her option to buy the property.

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The young actors sometimes struggle with the material and the face-slaps from the all-female opposing team are unfortunate.  But the script is absorbing, with some unexpected twists, appealing characters (I especially liked the grandmother and the pretty blogger), and real insights into the origins of bullying and its impact on the bully as well as the victim.

Parents should know that this film concern bullying and includes some rough talk.

Family discussion:  Why do people become bullies?  How are the teens in this story like the adults around them?  What does Tommy mean about “flipping the switch?”  What changes Matt’s mind?

If you like this, try: “Mean Girls”

 

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