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‘The Novice’ Review: In Lauren Hadaway’s Relentless Drama, College Rowing Is an Arena for the New Pathology of Success



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“The Novice” is a dark-side-of-athletics thriller. It’s a movie, like “Personal Best” or “Prefontaine,” that a lot of star athletes will probably be able to relate to, but it’s also a movie for anyone who ever felt existentially uncomfortable in gym class. The central character — and that’s no exaggeration, since her moody, relentless thousand-yard stare anchors every scene — is Alex Dall (Isabelle Fuhrman), a freshman at Wellington University, an overcast dystopian oasis of modernist concrete slabs, who decides to join the rowing team there. She’s not looking for an athletic scholarship (she was second in her high-school class and has won a full ride), and it’s a sport she has no experience in. At first, as she buckles down and starts her ERG workouts, strapping herself into a rowing machine that measures the amount of work being done, she seems as physically self-conscious and out-of-sorts as Molly Shannon’s Mary Katherine Gallagher.

But Dall, as she’s known, didn’t join the team to lose. She’s consumingly competitive — with her teammates, and with herself. She wants to defeat every obstacle, to master her pain (and to let it master her), not just to win but to excel, in every way and at all cost. Does she have a passion for rowing? We’re not sure; it’s almost irrelevant. Her passion is for succeeding. She treats rowing as a military endeavor, going at it with a joyless masochistic precision. She’s the new recruit (one of the team novices, which is what they’re called before they can move up to varsity), but she’s also her own domineering drill sergeant. One of the semi-jokes of the movie is that the team’s two coaches, Coach Pete (Jonathan Cherry) and Coach Edwards (Kate Drummond), are “stern taskmasters,” but they’re total pussycats when it comes to training their most fanatical novice. They have to keep telling her to work less hard.

“The Novice” took the prize for Best U.S. Narrative Feature at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, and it was nominated earlier this week for five Independent Spirit Awards (the film opens tomorrow). It’s the first feature written and directed by Lauren Hadaway, and Hadaway, working with ferocious skill, makes every shot sensual and immersive. She crafts the experiential version of an athlete’s cautionary coming-of-age tale crossed with elements of a self-punishing true-life psychological horror movie. We’re in those ERGs, right along with Dall, tugging away at those oars, and we’re in the boats during the races, drenched in her sweat, beyond exhausted, then in the bathroom afterwards, massaging the blood blisters that have formed on her palms.


Hadaway was the sound editor on “Whiplash,” and there’s a way that “The Novice” echoes that film’s relentless portrait of a young achiever who eats himself alive to reach for the top. But Miles Teller’s drummer had a mentor-slash-tormenter who was whipping him along, in the form of J.K. Simmons’ debonair jazzbo monster. Whereas in “The Novice,” it’s Dall who’s her own worst enemy. There are training montages that evoke the drug montages in “Requiem for a Dream,” and ironically lyrical rowing sequences set to the velvet croons of Brenda Lee and Connie Francis. The film also assaults you with rowing lingo, which flies by in a way that’s sometimes hard to pinpoint (Coach: “You’all are doing 60-minute runs, the rest of you are in 4s”).

Isabelle Fuhrman infuses Dall with an ambiguous glower of ambition that’s scary and human. Dall, as we learn, is also the college’s hardest working (though maybe least successful) physics major, taking every quiz three times, sitting there long after everyone else has left the tiered classroom, and still she doesn’t make the grade. Is she committed to physics? Not necessarily, though she succumbs to the flirtations of her tough-love TA, Dani (Dilone), going to see a gig she’s performing and then falling into bed with her. In these scenes, Fuhrman, with her delicate severity, makes Dall charismatic and relatable. If she would just settle down and be a normal student, the world would be her oyster. But that other part of her — Dall The Overachiever — is like a zombie identity that takes her over. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine her as the villain of another film: the athlete who’s too focused, too selfish, too aggro.

So are we supposed to like her? Lauren Hadaway was on the rowing team in college and based this movie on her experiences, so the answer might seem to be yes. Dall is the heroine, and we’re supposed to find her sympathetic, to relate to her experience and be drawn inside it. Hadaway is already the kind of filmmaker who can do that. Yet there’s a way that we remain distant from Dall, almost alienated from her quest. She is given a shot to move up to varsity regatta, but she puts off everyone on the team, to the point that they conspire against her. And the film is so single-minded about presenting her neurotic perfectionism that we can’t help but recoil from it, can’t help but feel that she’s on the wrong path. The film thinks so too. In a way, it’s waiting for her to catch up.

What gives “The Novice” its resonance is that I don’t think, at heart, it’s ultimately a movie about athletics. Rather, it’s a drama about a newly prevalent state-of-mind: the feeling, especially on the part of those today who are young, that the difference between total achievement and anything less than total achievement is life and death — that their future may hinge on killing themselves to succeed. This is a mentality that has emerged, at its core level, out of an increasingly corrupt economic structure — the perception (and maybe, in some ways, the reality) that if you’re not at the top you’re nowhere. “The Novice” uses college rowing to dig into the psycho-emotional metaphysic of that belief. The movie captures what it looks like when the hunger to win blots out life.



‘Utama’ Producers Reteam for Marcos Loayza’s ‘Los Abrazos’ (EXCLUSIVE)




The producers of Sundance world dramatic competition entry “Utama,” Bolivia’s Alma Films and Uruguay’s LaMayorCine, have re-teamed for “Los Abrazos” (“The Embrace”), the sixth fiction feature of Marcos Loayza.

The father of “Utama” director Alejandro Loayza Grisi and a lauded filmmaker in Bolivia, Loayza’s credits include his career-launching 1995 drama “A Question of Faith” (“Cuestion de Fe),” adventure pic “Averno” and the docu series “Planet Bolivia” where his son served as DP.

“’Los Abrazos’ is in quite an advanced phase and we hope to shoot it by the end of this year or early next,” said Federico Moreira of LaMayorCine who is hoping to enlist an Argentine co-producer for the drama which they expect to film on location in Bolivia, Uruguay and Argentina. Alejandro Loayza Grisi will likely serve as DP. Alma Film’s Santiago Loayza Grisi is Alejandro’s brother.


“There’s a good energy among the father and sons, they work well together,” said Moreira who is also a sound director on “Utama” and whose more than 30 years old award-winning post-production house also owns and operates Uruguay’s first and only Dolby-certified sound mixing room and four recording studios.

“In the past five years or so, since we launched the Dolby sound mixing room, we have participated in around 100 films,” said Moreira.

“Los Abrazos” pivots on an exile who, after some two decades away, sets out on a return journey to his homeland in a bid to recapture his memories of home. This prompts his son to travel from the capital to the border to meet up with his father. Both embark on their journeys for different reasons, one to recover his past and the other to find himself.

LaMayorCine has several other films in development. Among them is horror thriller “El Huraño,” which they hope to send to the work in progress sections of the film festivals of Sitges (Spain) and Busan (Korea). Written and to be directed by brothers Rafa and Bernardo Antonaccio (“In the Quarry”), “El Huraño” is also a cautionary tale about the environmental damage wrought by man, in this case, by a soybean agriculture business whose indiscriminate use of pesticides provokes a young man who suffers from a clinical lycanthropy disorder.


Another fiction feature in development, set in the Andes and mostly in the Quechua indigenous language like “Utama,” is “La Hija” (“The Daughter”) by Alvaro Olmos Torrico, which counts on the support of the Ibermedia program and has Martin Boulocq’s CQ Films, Rodante Films and Londra Films as associate producers.

LaMayorCine has a slew of documentaries in the works. These include “El Sabalero,” to be helmed by Enrique Fernandez (“The Pope’s Toilet”), about the late Uruguayan singer, composer and guitarist José María Carbajal, otherwise known as El Sabalero.

Two of the docs are soccer-themed: “Roofing,” most of it already shot, about a group of Costa Ricans who pretended to be a soccer team in order to settle in the U.S., and “In the Crowd,” now in post, which follows the bereaved mothers of two soccer fans, one of whom killed the other in one of the worst cases of hooligan crimes in Argentina.

Doc delves into the underworld of rival hooligan gangs and examines the culture of violence that has caused hundreds of deaths in Argentina.


LaMayorCine has two dramas currently shooting across Uruguay: “The Abandoned Paths” by Miguel Zeballos and “7 Balas” by Sebastian Perez.

Veronica Chen’s “Los Terrenos” is slated to shoot in May. Chen’s “High Tide (“Marea Alta”) where Moreira was a co-producer and sound director, screened at Sundance two years ago.

According to Moreira, production is booming in Uruguay because of several factors: first because Uruguay managed the Covid-19 pandemic well, vaccinating most of its population; second, it offers generous tax incentives; and third, because it is safe compared to Argentina and Brazil.

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Unique Beatles and John Lennon Items From Julian Lennon’s Collection Up for NFT Auction (EXCLUSIVE)



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John Lennon’s coat from the “Magical Mystery Tour” film, his cape from “Help!,” three guitars, and Paul McCartney’s handwritten arrangement notes for “Hey Jude” — all from John’s son Julian’s private collection — are going up for NFT auction on Feb. 7, the first in a series to be rolled out over the coming months. “Lennon Connection: The NFT Collection” is presented by NFT marketplace YellowHeart and Julien’s Auctions.

The auction, the first all-NFT effort mounted by Julien’s Auctions, will open for bidding January 24 and commence in real time and in lot order for live bidding at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time on February 7, 2022, live in Beverly Hills and online at

Each item will be offered as an audio/visual collectible, with a personal narration from Julian. Descriptions and videos of the items appear below; the items themselves are not up for auction.


“I’ve been collecting these personal items for about 30 years, and I was getting a bit fed up with them being locked away in a vault, where I’ve had to keep them because I didn’t want them to get damaged,” Lennon tells Variety. “We did a few exhibitions in Europe with the items, and my intention was to take the collection and tour it, and I still hope to at some point in time, but obviously the last few years have not been helpful.

“I actually felt very bad about keeping all that stuff locked away, and I just felt that this was a unique way to continue dad’s legacy and to show people the collections I have, and with the videos and narration, to give people a little more than they would normally get and hear some stories that they haven’t heard before in a new art form and a different medium,” he continues. “This is a slow rollout over the next year or so of quite a few items. I have a lot of projects happening this year, including a new album, and these [items] tie in to a few of them. I can’t really say much more — you’ll understand why when it happens. The first release will be April 8 and that will inform you of the campaign going forward.”

“Julian has these incredible items in the physical world and these are 1 of 1 offerings in the digital world,” says YellowHeart founder Josh Katz. “We’re going to see a lot more of these physical/digital pairings in the years to come — it’s already happening with sneakers, and here you have a 1 of 1 digital representation of this priceless item. It’s a pretty special thing that Julian is doing.”

According to the announcement, the NFT offerings are a unique and non-interchangeable unit of data stored on the blockchain. Each piece is a 1 of 1 edition; Lennon will continue to own the only physical counterpart.


A portion of the sale proceeds from this NFT collection will benefit Lennon’s White Feather Foundation, which will use the funds to purchase carbon removal from Nori in the form of Nori Carbon Removal Tonnes (NRTs). According to the announcement, each NRT represents one tonne of CO2-equivalent heat-trapping gas that has been removed from our atmosphere and stored in a terrestrial, subsurface, industrial or aquatic reservoir. Nori currently achieves this by working with farmers across the United States to adapt regenerative practices that increase carbon removal and sequestration. Once the carbon removal purchases have been made, White Feather will make public the Nori certificate of carbon removal which provides all information regarding the carbon removal transaction.

In their shared commitment to minimize environmental impacts, YellowHeart’s NFT platform exists on what is called “Second Layer” and “proof of stake,” which does not have the energy consumption of first layer Ethereum networks used by many providers.

Highlights include (with estimates):

Afghan Coat from “Magical Mystery Tour” 1:1 NFT (starting at $6,000)


Four-year-old Julian was present on the set of the film “Magical Mystery Tour,” where his father John Lennon often wore this coat sometimes paired with pinstripe trousers and jewelry. Though very young at the time, he remembers the experience as “a bit crazy.” John also wore the coat at the launch party for the iconic album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Afghan coat

“Hey Jude” Notes written by Paul McCartney 1:1 NFT (starting at $30,000) The 1968 Beatles’ masterpiece is frequently included on music lists of the greatest songs of all time. The first song released on the Beatles’ own Apple Records label, “Hey Jude,” originally titled “Hey Jules,” was written for Julian Lennon by Paul McCartney to comfort him during the time of his parents John and Cynthia Lennon’s divorce. The classic was the Beatles’ biggest-selling single in the U.S., having sold five million copies in the first six months of its release and became the number one song in 12 countries. Paul separated how he thought the song should be structured into four sections, with voices and instruments. These are his original notes, which include his personal doodles and drawings.

Julian adds to Variety, “He wrote that on the way to visit my mum and I once he’d heard the news [about the divorce]. It was a rainy day and he was in the car and started humming ideas and singing ‘Hey Jules,’ but it didn’t ring as well as ‘Hey Jude’ — at least this was his story to me many years ago — and the rest is history. It was only later in life that I really appreciated what he was trying to say and do for us, and I’m forever thankful for it. I also have a love/hate relationship with hearing it — not a week goes by that I don’t hear it in some capacity!,” he laughs, “but I’m truly honored that he did it, and Uncle Paul will always be my Uncle Paul.”


Hey Jude

Black Cape Worn by John Lennon from the movie “Help!” – 1:1 NFT (starting at $8,000)

Though Julian was too young to have memories of this time, his mother Cynthia recalled how she and John learned how to ski in Austria during the film shoot for Help! This black cape was worn by John in the movie’s scenes filmed in the Alps.

Black cape


Gibson Les Paul 25/50 Guitar Gifted by John Lennon to Julian Lennon 1:1 NFT (starting at $4,000)

This special-order rare 25/50 model was launched to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Les Paul model guitar and the 50th anniversary of Les Paul’s career in music. A gift to Julian from John, this guitar was one that John used to teach Julian chords on and help improve his playing techniques when he would visit.

Gibson Les Paul 1

Gibson Les Paul Guitar Copy Gifted by John Lennon to Julian Lennon 1:1 NFT (starting at $4,000)


A Christmas gift from his father, Julian has played this Gibson Les Paul copy guitar on many occasions, but never publicly because it is too precious to him. “I never used it on record, but I probably wrote a few tunes on it. In my eyes, it was, and still is, the most beautiful guitar,” said Lennon.

Gibson Les Paul 2

Gibson 1959 Guitar Gifted by John Lennon to Julian Lennon 1:1 NFT (starting at $4,000)

Used in some of Julian’s earliest performances at Kingsmead School in Hoylake, this was one of his favorite guitars because it had a short neck and was easier to play. A gift from his father, it holds a special place in his collection.


1959 Gibson

Founded in 2017 by Katz, YellowHeart is an NFT marketplace for music NFTs, tickets, community tokens and more, working with artists such as the Kings of Leon, Maroon 5, the late XXXTentacion, Brandi Carlile, ZHU, Burnley F.C., and others.

Julien’s Auctions has previously sold such Beatles items as one of John Lennon’s acoustic guitars, which sold for a record $2.4 million, Ringo Starr’s drum kit ($2.2 million), the drum head Ringo used on the “Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964 ($2.1 million), Paul McCartney’s handwritten lyrics to “Hey Jude” ($910,000) and more.

“Julien’s Auctions is honored to build on our rich legacy of Beatles iconography auctions in our inaugural all NFT event with Julian Lennon. We are proud to partner with Julian who’s offering these one-of-a-kind NFT collectibles of his extraordinary personal collection of John Lennon’s artifacts used during his time as a Beatle and the special time they spent together as father and son,” said Darren Julien, President/Chief Executive Officer of Julien’s Auctions. “Added to our excitement is our collaboration with YellowHeart, whose leadership in this marketplace fully launches Julien’s exciting and bold new chapter into the blockchain and NFT stratosphere.”


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