Netflix’s new sports drama film can grapple with the best of them.
Written and directed by Olivia Newman, Netflix’s original film “First Match” debuted at the SXSW festival on March 12 and started streaming on the online platform on March 30.
“First Match” is based on Newman’s 2010 short film of the same name. The film stars Elvire Emanuelle as teenage Monique, a girl living in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood, who’s been hardened from years of being in the foster care system.
The film opens with a breezy aerial shot of clothes slowly falling to the ground from a window of a high-rise building. That opening scene gives the audience its first look at the type of person Monique is: a strong-willed, no-nonsense teenager who’s grown beyond her years.
Monique takes a risk and decides the only way to get back to her estranged father, Darrel (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, “The Get Down”), is to join the boys wrestling team.
Colman Domingo (“Fear the Walking Dead”) portrays Coach Castile, who gives Monique a shot to channel her anger into something constructive — such as trying out for the wrestling team at her high school.
Monique ends up shocking and surprising the entire team by taking them all down during practice, but it doesn’t come without harsh ridicule. She can brush that off by making snide remarks to her fellow teammates, especially when they start winning matches.
But what Monique can’t brush off is the need to please her estranged father, who taught her everything she knows about wrestling from his stardom in high school and college.
While she succeeds in getting closer to her father, he ends up forcing her to choose between wrestling and illegal, underground fighting that he claims will be so profitable they can move out of Brooklyn. Instead of choosing, she tries to do both, sometimes showing up to wrestling matches ready for a real fight and even making excuses for the bruises on her face and knuckles.
Emanuelle gives a stunning performance of what it means to stay strong and persistent when the world around hands you nothing but hardships. With the use of extreme close-up shots of her face mixed in, every single emotion is clearly conveyed to the audience and makes them feel as if they’re in the scene with her.
The film concludes with an ending that will have its audience on a string. Will Monique choose to end her ever-continuing heartache and stick with high school wrestling? Or choose to end the longing for her father by sticking by his side?