First Match ReviewPosted by Dominga Martin
March 30, 2018
FIGHT LIKE A DOG – FIRST MATCH debuts on Netflix March 30th.
First time film director Olivia Newman comes out swinging with her debut film FIRST MATCH, a coming-of-age drama about a teen age girl from Brooklyn who joins an all boys wrestling team at her high school as a positive outlet to channel her anger.
Monique, played brilliantly by first time actor Elvire Emanuelle finds herself bouncing from foster home to foster home after her birth mother dies and her father Darrell (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) goes to prison. The instability of a stable home and positive role models sends her on a quest of survival, leading her on a path of destruction. Her social worker (Eisa Davis) finds her a home with a Hispanic woman who Monique can not relate to and refuses to open up due to her emotional barrier. While her new foster mom tries to break through, Monique’s hardened facade makes it difficult, in addition to the language and cultural barrier in the household.
Entering her life at this pivotal moment of adult hood is her father who has just been released from prison; unbeknownst to Monique. Her desire to reconnect with her father is evident in her decision to join her (all boy) high school wrestling team, considering her dad was state champion when he was her age. Both begin to form a father/daughter bond which quickly becomes toxic due to the system’s inability to fully rehabilitate her father after his release.
Although this film does not tackle recidivism head on it indirectly poses the question: Where does one go when trying to survive? Darell finds himself facing the responsibility of taking care of his daughter, who needs stability and a home, yet he does not have a stable job. Monique, is searching for a real home, yet she is trapped in the system. Neither have an easy way out which causes an enabling disaster of two people at the crossroads of their life.
First Match is an independent film filled with so many layers to unpack. Rich in texture and set in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville. Ms. Newman not only paid great attention to detail when making this film, but allowed each actor to breathe life into characters with complexities we rarely see on screen. The range of emotion and colors which are magic to witness between actors Yahya and Elvire are just one of the reasons why this film won the Audience Award at the 2018 SXSW festival.
As an audience we find ourselves wrestling with the discomfort of Monique’s choices. We are on the path with her as she tries to make the right decisions, and we hold our breath every time she leaves all her anger on the mat. Yet, fighting her way out of her circumstances may not be the answer as she faces herself and begins to evolve — does she take the path which leads to criminality or the unknown? Does she leave the father she longed for behind? In addition to the hesitation of a straight and narrow path being formulated by positive male role models, which she finds in her coach (Coleman Domingo); brotherly love of her best friend (Jharrel Jerome) and first love (Jared Kemp). Tangled with inner turmoil she is faced with choosing her team mates or succumb to the pressure to join the brutal dog fight between women from the wrong side of the tracks, at an illegal underground boxing ring. Always in survival mode, how does she fight her way out of this one?
Produced by Chanelle Elaine, Veronica Nickel, and Bryan Unkeless, actors Coleman Domingo, Jharrel Jerome, and Julito McCullum also make an appearance.