The movie Rag Doll gets its punch from a twist on the sports film genre by focusing on a young woman whose fight to survive takes her into mixed martial arts.
Playing Nora, actress Shannon Murray sees life as a constant battle, so it makes sense for her to move into a ring for a full body contact sport that blends all sorts of vicious moves. As the subordinate sparing quote “rag doll” for the competitor expected to go the distance, Nora qualifies as the sports staple movie underdog in a project that ultimately stands apart for the time it takes exploring the mindset of its lead character.
Murray’s taut face expresses the frustration of a woman whose efforts to move forward chronically get pushed back. She never seeks sympathy but generates it with her refusal to quit. Director Bailey Kobe guides all his performers well, including Emmy nominee Dot-Marie Jones, also known as Coach Bieste on the Glee television show.
Director Kobe adds to the film’s gritty atmosphere by letting his locations remain in a natural state, with grimy surfaces and little warmth. His low budget shows with harsh, unflattering lighting, but then most people fail to look their best while sparring in gyms. As for fight choreography, it looked rough enough to make me squint and hide my eyes the way I usually do when zombies start eating brains. No surprise that mixed martial arts competitors suffer great agony, but I resist focusing on it.
And speaking of surprises, much of what happens in Rag Doll feels familiar, a natural drawback to a genre with basic tropes of the underdog coming from behind. However, the empathetic take on a young woman’s growth, blended with effective performances, gives Rag Doll extra push. Originally playing the film festival circuit and set for limited theatrical release, Rag Doll now streams free on Amazon Prime.