The inspirational drama Triumph, hailing from director Brett Leonard, spins a highly familiar tale occasionally elevated by strong acting performances. Inspired by a true story, we follow Mike (Breaking Bad’s RJ Mitte) in his senior year; despite his cerebral palsy, he longs to build a successful wrestling career. 10 years earlier, at only nine years old, Mike broke his collarbone. Now he will stop at nothing to prove he has what it takes to play on the same field as the others. His disability does not make him lesser in any way; Mike’s hard work and determination sparks awe and joy in all of those he touches.
As much as I wanted to love Triumph, I found it very difficult to judge beyond the distracting and overbearing score. It makes the film feel more like an after-school special, layering on the schmaltz and sentiment; eventually, it gets to the point where the acting performances are drowning to rise above the cheesy tide. The ensemble all does well, especially Terrence Howard. As Coach Cutting, Howard fills the role with his charisma and spirit. Colton Haynes is good as Jeff (though a slow-motion falling sequence comes across way more hilarious than heartbreaking), and of course RJ Mitte himself is utterly fantastic. A script from Michael D. Coffey (one that feels personal and uplifting) is decent until it becomes very on-the-nose in the final act. It was refreshing to see the girls drawn to Mike. He doesn’t see his disability as a hindrance, and that’s hot. One of the girls even compliments his “really nice booty.”
I’m trying my hardest not to be too harsh on Triumph, which clearly has its heart in the right place. Disabled actor RJ Mitte does a great job in the lead role, and is the one reason you should give this a chance. I could’ve done with more adorable Funkytown aerobics montages with Mitte and less of the melodramatic music. If predictable TV-dramas are your cup of tea, maybe you’ll enjoy Triumph more than I did. I loved the concept and the messages, but it is ultimately a major misfire. I’ll close with a potent quote near the conclusion: “Never judge a person by what they can’t do, because what they can do might blow you away.”
Triumph comes to theaters on Friday, April 30th.