Here's something you probably didn't know: Over the past six years, 37-year-old director Ryan Little has helmed six feature films. He's made a musical, a war movie, a Western, a horror film, and a romantic comedy; for his sixth film, he tackles an uplifting sports melodrama. In Forever Strong, Sean Faris plays the gifted but troubled son of hard-ass Arizona rugby coach Neal McDonough. When Faris gets busted for his second DUI, he's sent to a group home, where he meets Sean Astin, who speaks wistfully about inspiring, innovative rugby coach Gary Cole, a man who cares more about life lessons than wins. Reluctantly, Faris gets on board, and thrives under Cole's tutelage to such a degree that he eventually leads his new team to face his father's team in the state championship.
Forever Strong isn't terrible, and Little has some talent as a director. Though the story is predictable, it moves fast and looks sharp, and it's perfect for those sports nuts compulsive enough to want to see every T crossed and every I dotted. But if you're wondering how a largely unknown director has managed to make six movies that few people have seen—at a time when most independent filmmakers can't raise the scratch to complete one—the one-dimensional moralizing of Forever Strong should help explain. Little is a BYU graduate, and most of his movies feature implicit (or explicit) Mormon themes. He has the support of one of the wealthiest denominations in the country.
It's definitely possible to make artful message movies—just consider the filmography of ex-Mormon iconoclast Richard Dutcher—but Forever Strong is generic faith-and-redemption fare, devoid of nuance. The best thing about it is Cole, who can sell a speech about self-respect better than many, simply by underplaying. The rest of the movie runs thick with sap, right up to the climactic parade of comeuppances, apologies, and reconciliations. Early in Forever Strong, Faris' mother tries to defend her son to the judge in his DUI case, pleading, "He's better than he seems on paper, your honor." When it comes to this movie though, you get exactly what you expect.