REVIEW: ‘Sisters on Track’ Is a Bland but Hopeful Documentary About Community and Dreams

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Sports are wonderful. They inspire, change lives and create community. A testament to that is the Netflix Original documentary Sisters on Track. It follows Rainn, Tai, and Brooke Sheppard, three runner sisters whose lives are closely tied to the sport. But this is less about glory and medals, and more about growing up.

Directors Tone Grøttjord-Glenne and Corinne van der Borch could’ve easily told the story of how the Sheppard sisters rose from living in a homeless shelter with their mother Tonia to becoming Sports Illustrated Kids of the Year and being gifted two years rent to live in a Brooklyn apartment by the Tyler Perry foundation. If this was Hollywood fiction, the film would’ve ended right there, with a seemingly happy ending for everyone. However, all of this is quickly explained with just a prototypical five minutes montage. Why? Because this is a documentary and in real life, the struggles will keep on coming.

A new chapter starts in the life of the Sheppard sisters as they plan their future. We watch them grow, study, search for a high school, fight for scholarship opportunities, and pursue their dreams. Meanwhile, their single mother Tonia works hard to raise her three daughters and find a new job that will grant them financial stability in a couple of years, when the Tyler Perry rent aid disappears. The help didn’t fix everything magically. Running equipment, books, braces, and school, it’s all expensive.

Brooke is the youngest sister and despite her talent for running, she wants to become an artist. Rainn has to deal with an injury and a talkative personality, which gets her in trouble in school. The oldest and maybe most promising is Tai, and therefore her arc is the most interesting; she’s entering teenagehood and is starting to lose focus; she has trouble controlling her nerves and dealing with the changes around her. The documentary tries its best to capture their transition into confident young women. 

But the strongest presence in the documentary is that of coach Jean Bell, an imposing, wise, and inspiring woman in charge of the Jeuness Track Club, a community-based program created to keep girls off the streets, give them a future and help them achieve higher education through Track and Field. 

Bell’s duties go beyond the field. She’s a guide, an authority figure, and emotional support for the girls. She makes sure they are achieving good grades in school and teaches them about menstruation, teenagehood, race, and the dangers of being a Black person in America. Sometimes the focus veers too much towards her, which takes away from the sister’s coming-of-age story. It’s hard to blame the directors though, as Bell has an enormous personality and is a very interesting character to listen to.

However, the documentary struggles to find its pace and is constantly hurt by its conventional approach. Important moments — such as the news about the closure of their soon-to-be high school and the turmoil of one of the girls at counseling   are weakly explored or simply delivered through text, or a random dialogue. The lack of emotion and wonky editing results in a dull experience throughout large chunks of the film.

Sisters on Track isn’t life-changing and could’ve been more impactful with a clear focus and stronger editing, but it’s still an inspiring look at how sport can become a tool to create change and pursue dreams, but most importantly, it’s a story about the importance of community and having strong figures around us to push us, teach us and help us become our best version of ourselves.

Sisters on Track is now streaming on Netflix.

 

Sisters on Track
  • 6/10
    Rating - 6/10
6/10

TL;DR

Sisters on Track isn’t life-changing and could’ve been more impactful with a clear focus and stronger editing, but it’s still an inspiring look at how sport can become a tool to create change and pursue dreams, but most importantly, it’s a story about the importance of community and having strong figures around us to push us, teach us and help us become our best version of ourselves.