Director: Adam Lipsius
Starring: Lindsey Shaw, Chandler Massey, Susie Abromeit, Lindsey Black, Keith Coulouris, Alexandra Paul
A paint-by-numbers, underdog-made-good, coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of junior circuit tennis, “16-Love” is a wholesome movie of modest ambitions, shaggy and sunny personality, and middling execution. For tweens looking for something to while away the time between “Twilight” flicks there may be some small measure of entertainment, but nothing else here particularly merits a glance for older audiences.
The story centers on a 16-year-old tennis ace, Ally “Smash” Mash (Lindsey Shaw), who sprains her ankle and is forced to retire in a big match against Katina Upranova (Susie Abromeit), a snooty and heretofore undefeated Russian junior superstar. While her hard-driving father, Dave (Keith Coulouris), hires a small army of trainers and massage therapists to oversee her recovery, Ally drifts into a peer-coach relationship with a promising but unpolished male player, Farrell Gambles (Chandler Massey), who is playing in an effort to secure a college scholarship. As they grow closer and inch toward romance (Farrell woos her by taking her out for her first taste of ice cream), Ally begins to consider her priorities, and whether she’s been living out her father’s dream or a dream of her own.
The quick, multi-axis movements of a sport like tennis are hard to capture on film, so director Adam Lipsius is forced to resort to awkward edits and tight, in-game close-ups to mask overhead smashes and deep baseline strokes. “16-Love” is best when leaning on the charm of its two leads, Shaw and Massey. They each have a pinch of polish, yet still exude a relatable naturalness that helps ground the movie. If there’s another silver lining, it’s that the production — shot in San Diego — takes advantage to a nice degree of its beautiful outdoor settings. While this isn’t a particularly imaginatively constructed film, its backdrop does give the movie a bit of scope and production value.
Unfortunately, the story proper here is exceedingly familiar — nipping bits from sources as varied as “Rocky IV” and “Varsity Blues” — and additionally rendered without much grace or elevated wittiness. Written by Leigh Dunlap (“A Cinderella Story,” “Spy Girls”), it leans on boilerplate dialogue and situations, and is characterized by an uncertain tone, never quite committing to heightened absurdity or straightforward realism. A honest scene between Ally and her mother Margo (ex-“Baywatch” babe Alexandra Paul) gives Shaw a showcase moment, and Dave’s realization that his daughter is no longer his little girl also nicely avoids demonstrative emotionalism. But Dunlap otherwise mainly flits from one sitcom contrivance to another, awkwardly attempting to trade on Ally’s junior-celebrity status, as filtered through the viewpoint of her bouncy best friend, Rebecca (Lindsey Black). These bits don’t work, they merely kill time until the inevitable tournament showdown in which Ally and Farrell jointly reap the dividends of their hard work. Sometimes a simply told big screen parable — effort yields results — is worth its weight in gold. This is not one of those times.
NOTE: In addition to its theatrical release, “16-Love” is also available on VOD. For more information, visit www.16-Love.com.
Written by: Brent Simon