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  • Spend 90 minutes with a high school class at Lowell in San Francisco and see the pressure these kids, and sometimes their parents, place on themselves to succeed and get into the best colleges.

    This is a terrific documentary. Totally engaging, funny and the empathy you feel inside yourself for these kids, while watching it, is palpable and I found myself getting quite emotional on a couple of occasions. I really enjoyed the AP physics teacher and wish I had had him as a high school teacher. I feel I know so much about these kids with the short time I've spent with them and would love to follow them through their higher education.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This film is a must watch for every high schoolers and tiger moms of all races. It focuses primarily on Asian-American kids in a highly competitive high schools and the first intention was to show the racism these kids suffer from at College admissions: they are doing beyond what is expected of them, excel in academics, pass the hardest APs, attend all clubs, and volunteer in their free-time to be, after four years of extenuating studies, rejected by the top universities of their choice. This could be interpreted as institutionalized racism, yet, the director also rightly shows the devastating impact of the parents overbearing expectations - almost always the mothers. These kids are deeply unhappy and emotionally damaged by their mothers who literally do not let them grow. A very attaching kid admits that he prefers a College far from his family so his mother doesn't visit him every week-end and you feel for him. "Tigermomming" is not the privilege of Asian mothers as you see a Black mother doing as badly for her daughter - with similar disastrous results, while another Asian mom refuses to put undue pressure on her son who ultimately will be very happy in his mid-tiers College. These over-pressured kids are all bright but at the same time emotionally immature. Colleges understand that and in the end, the one kid who is accepted in his dream College is the one who had to deal with a drugged-addict father, has been evicted from his house, and from cooking to housing is fully taking care of himself with no mom in view.
  • The college admissions process is one of the most competitive endeavors children in America face every year. As a senior in high school currently going through it, I found this film relatable and eye-opening to the hardships that I and many others are facing.

    Try Harder! Takes us through the admissions process by following members of the senior class at Lowell High School, a prestigious, nationally ranked school. The students in the film all share the same process, yet different personal experiences which make the process more complex.

    The stereotypes of immigrant parents reign true in this documentary. It considers different viewpoints on the different aspects of the admissions process - from test scores to essays. I love that the film ponders questions we will never get to uncover such as, if you should be humble in writing your essay or not. It questions whether you should check the "I do not wish to disclose" when asked for your race or gender. This film also touches on heavy social issues such as the stereotypes placed on African Americans and their academic abilities, racial discrimination in the admission's process, and the mental health of students in pressurized households.

    One of students in the film mentions a very powerful message applicable to this situation, but also in any difficult situation - "People who apply and don't work hard, yet still get in, rubs me the wrong way." This quote exemplifies how, during a competition of any sort, you must work hard and overcome those people making it difficult for you to succeed or to be happy. This film promotes positive social behavior and mentions mental health.

    I give Try Harder! 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 10 to 18, plus adults. Try Harder! Opens in theatres December 3, 2021. By Ashleigh C., KIDS FIRST!
  • Saw this on the flight almost by accident.

    However, once I started, it was hard to look away. The students are so great, especially Alvan but all the others too. This doc shows what students today have to go through.

    I wish it focused more on Jonathan Chu and Shea, however.
  • This movie is an insider's critique of the Tiger Mom culture through the study of high school students at the Lowell High School. With a majority Asian American student body, these kids are working hard to gain admission to the most prestigious University or College possible.

    In eyes of most students and parents, the college admission process is the culmination of high school and ultimate representation of individual and perhaps family 'Self-worth'. The term "Ivy-league" and "Stanford" are mentioned repeatedly. To the students at Loyal High School, admittance to one of a handful of schools guarantees entry into some rarefied world where the rest of their lives will be defined by the golden label on their resume.

    Chances of admission, however, are remote. The biggest factor working against the kids at Lowell High School is their Asian ethnicity. The entire college admission process is quite openly racist and devoid of academic merit. Yet, apparently, the college admission process has just enough of an illusion of meritocracy that most of the students at Lowell High will spend their senior year doing everything possible to gain admission to an elite school - only to be rejected.

    One hard-working Asian woman takes a break from her job at an ice cream job to check responses on her phone for Ivy league schools on the day that these schools announce their decisions. Of course, she has applied to all eight schools. Painfully, one-by-one we see her read the messages from each school. Sadly, she is not accepted by a single "Ivy" School.

    A few voices in the film acknowledge the absurdity of the entire process. A physics teacher meeting with a student and his mother at his home advises that the best college selection is one based on the student's actual interests and opportunities for research. Another student is glad that his mother does not fall into the "Tiger Mom" Asian stereotype. We learn this mother attended Lowell High School back in the 1980's and thus probably has firsthand experience with the lasting damage of the high-pressure succeed at all costs high school experience.

    These wise voices are drowned out by the herd of parents who are driving their kids to succeed at all costs. We hear about the mystical accomplishments of the school's violin virtuoso who seemingly effortlessly masters all exams and has been admitted early to the best schools. We hear amazingly little discussion of what students will study in college and what they will do with their lives beyond University. And through this montage of images, the filmmaker delivers a stinging rebuke to all those individuals and forces who seem to have forgotten the ultimate purpose of education.