CIFF ’18 Review: In ‘Olympia’ There’s No Cutoff For Trying to Get Your Life Together

This piece was initially published on Much Ado About Cinema in October 2018.

We all hate growing up: paying bills, paying rent, paying taxes, getting a job. It feels like a constant struggle to figure it all out while you’re just trying to keep your head above water and seem put together. It is a feeling that may seem difficult to convey, but Chicago-born screenwriter McKenize Chinn is able to do it in her film, Olympia. This film captures the anxieties and fears of trying to get your proverbial shit together while staying true to your dreams.

Olympia is about Chicago-native Olympia (Chinn) who is trying to figure it all out on the eve of her 30th birthday. She is a talented artist, but hasn’t been able to use it to make a living — instead, she is a receptionist at a nondescript office, doing menial work that’ll pay the bills. She has a wonderful, and recently successful, boyfriend, a loving sister, and a sick mother. She is insular, shut off from the world, and scared of telling anyone how she is truly feeling — she doesn’t want to seem weak or incompetent. Olympia is stuck at a crossroads and is trying to figure out what it really means to be an adult. She learns being an adult is messy, complicated, hard, beautiful, and no one really ever has it figured out.

This film had my heart in its fist as Olympia talks about loans, marriage, rent, and struggling through a job that she hates. The conflicts Olympia faces are real-world problems, struggles that all of us between the ages of 23 and 30 can understand, at least to a point. It also captures the fears of “what the hell am I actually doing with my life?” There’s a scene in particular where one of Olympia’s coworkers says, “Are you doodling something? It must be so fun to have time to do stuff like that.” It is a small moment but it is so demoralizing and relatable for anyone told that their passions are nothing but hobbies.

While Olympia beautifully captures the struggles of growing up, it does struggle with its pacing. There are scenes that seem necessary to the plot, but are rushed through, while other moments are lingered on for far too long, dragging out and stopping the film’s momentum. Olympia focuses on scenes that seem purely ancillary to the plot rather than letting other more important moments breathe.

Outside of the core cast, the secondary characters are written merely as stereotypes and caricatures rather than individual people. These characters are written to be the tech bro or stoner hippie, figures that are prominent in the life of most millennials, but without any depth. While this gives McKenzie room to shine as the titular Olympia, it is distracting to go from well-acted, emotional moments to scenes where everyone is merely a shallow representation of humanity.

Despite the film’s pitfalls, Olympia is a charming and honest look at the life of a generation stuck in limbo. We’re all just trying to make it through without losing sight of ourselves in the mire of adulthood. Olympia offers a glimmer of hope in what can be a terrifying world — we can make it work, even if there are quite a few roadblocks around the way. While ending on a more positive note than many of us might be feeling, it is a breath of fresh air in a world full of despair about our futures.

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