Try Harder!

Directed by Debbie Lum
U.S | 2021 | Documentary
85 minutes | English

“Try Harder!” offers an engaging portrait of five young adults as they navigate a quintessential rite of passage. At Lowell High School, the top-ranked public high school in San Francisco, the seniors are stressed out. As they prepare for the emotionally draining college-application process, students are keenly aware of the intense competition for the few open spots in their dream colleges. They scrutinize how every element of their application, from their classes to their extracurricular activities to their racial identities, might be read by admission officers. At Lowell — where cool kids are nerds, nearly everyone has an amazing talent, and the majority of the student body is Asian American — the things that usually make a person stand out can feel not good enough, even commonplace. With humor and heart, former St. Louisan and SLIFF alum Debbie Lum (“Seeking Asian Female”) examines the increasingly fraught American college-application process and explores the complicated intersection of class, race, and educational opportunity. Variety writes: “‘Try Harder!,’ Debbie Lum’s simultaneously charming and chastening documentary on the senior class in Lowell High, takes its cue from its lovable, dorky, high-achieving subjects and mostly remains in a cheerful register, heroizing a group rarely celebrated in high school movies: the good kids. But underneath the goofiness and gallows humor, there is a darker point being made about the impossible cycle of heightened expectations, cultural stereotyping and ever-shrinking admissions quotas for top-flight colleges.”