Triumph is a 2021 wrestling drama inspired by the true story of screenwriter Michael D. Coffey overcoming his disability. It’s a truly heartwarming and inspiring watch, although sadly it suffers from all of the usual clichés you see in an underdog sports film.
The story follows Mike, a boy with cerebral palsy, and we first see him as a 9-year-old competing in a wrestling match. He loses and winds up with a broken collarbone, his wrestling competition over. We then skip forward 10 years to Mike as a senior (RJ Mitte) in the 80s, where he’s undergoing physical therapy to improve his mobility. He starts at a new school, and on his first day encounters resistance from the teachers at his intention to take demanding classes that in addition to difficult sciences and mathematics, also includes weightlifting. Mike proves he has the mental acuity to take his classes and attends the weightlifting class in the hope of reigniting his goal of wrestling, unbeknownst to his overprotective father (Johnathon Schaech).
Mike wanders into the school gym and after helping with his weights, befriends jock Jeff (Colton Haynes), who’s already on the wrestling team with aims of achieving a scholarship to go to college. Mike also befriends and falls for Patti (Grace Victoria Cox), a fellow student in his literature class. Despite quickly making friends, Mike soon finds himself falling victim to bullying and snide remarks from other students, including fellow aspiring wrestler Troy. He attends his weightlifting class where he expresses to Coach Cutting (Terrence Howard) his intentions to wrestle, however, the Coach does his best to dissuade Mike from pursuing such a challenging and agility based sport. Mike doesn’t back down and instead rises to a weightlifting challenge laid down by the Coach in which success would allow him to take part in the wrestling tryouts. And soon, despite unfortunate and unforeseen events, Mike is proving everyone wrong with his hard work and perseverance in his pursuit of wrestling.
Triumph is everything you’d expect from an underdog sports film, complete with a rather clichéd script, a fairly predictable plot and of course, a training montage set to inspirational music. The only difference here is that the lead character is suffering from a physical disability rather than just the usual lack of sporting ability, and this makes for a much more endearing and motivational watch. It’s helped by a brilliant performance from RJ Mitte, and an equally good performance from the ever-reliable Terrence Howard, along with a rather brilliant 80s soundtrack. The most engaging part of this film though, strangely, isn’t Mike’s sporting prowess, but his budding bromance with fellow wrestler Jeff. Seeing these two on-screen together was both funny and heartwarming, and seeing their trainer/trainee dynamic change over the course of the film is so nice to watch.
Unfortunately, the clichés do let this film down, as do some of the slow-motion and questionable lighting choices. Rather strangely, any scene featuring natural light through a window appears hazy on screen, and if this is a cinematography choice then it’s a poor one, as it proves to be very distracting over the course of the film, to the point where I wondered if there was something wrong with my TV.
Despite its flaws and abundance of underdog sporting clichés, it is Triumph’s performances and heartwarming scenes that put this slightly above your average sporting drama.
Signature Entertainment presents Triumph on Digital Platforms from 28th June
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!