Triumph review – RJ Mitte grapples with sporting ambition in the wrestling ring

With actors with disabilities often confined to supporting roles, Triumph could have been a breath of fresh air. Centring on the rarely seen athletic journey of a character with a motor disorder, this underdog, coming-of-age sports movie has a big heart but lacks the competency to execute its aspirational premise.

Mike (RJ Mitte) is a handsome high school freshman with a particularly disarming smile. He dreams of joining the wrestling team; however, because he has cerebral palsy, the obstacles are numerous. Not only does Mike endure jeers and bullying from other students, his caring but overly protective father also attempts to dissuade him from participating in organised sports. In the face of such hurdles, Mike fortunately has the unwavering support of the tough-but-fair Coach Cutting (Terrence Howard) and his new best friend/star athlete Jeff (Colton Haynes). With each arduous session of training, Mike not only grows as an athlete but also acquires timeless life lessons.

Inspired by the teenage years of screenwriter Michael D Coffey, who grew up with cerebral palsy, the film does strive for authenticity, especially in terms of casting. Best known for playing Walter White Jr in Breaking Bad, Mitte has the condition himself, and infuses a rather thinly written character with a lot of tenacity and charisma. In fact, though based on truth, the story feels more like a sports film checklist, restlessly jumping from one cliche to another with little emotional weight. In contrast to Mitte’s committed performance, Howard pretty much phones it in with a near monotonous line reading; the cinematography is also particularly distracting, with a penchant for a halo-like effect that obscures the characters’ faces and proves especially ill-suited during wrestling sequences where the athletes’ bodies become blurry rather than powerful.

This might work as an OK family-friendly watch, but good intentions are not enough to make a good movie.

• Triumph is released on 28 June on digital platforms.