Kelly lives with and cares for her grandmother Cath, who is in the early grips of dementia. It’s a hard job, especially when Cath lashes out at Kelly.
Kelly has few outlets for her stress, but she finds relief at a local boxing gym. As things come to a head at home, she must learn to master the anger building up inside of her — or end up like her mother.
Directed by Alex Hardy from a script co-written with Elizabeth Mason, with music from Shae Universe, this absorbing short drama combines the visceral power of great sports drama with an incisive and intimate psychological one. Though the central sport here is brutal, its storytelling is sensitive and deeply attuned to its protagonist’s headspace, as she faces intense stress in her home life, both from her present circumstances and her familial legacy.
Like its main character, the emotional tenor of the narrative alternates between quiet and explosive. Kelly’s world is captured in naturalistic muted, muddy colors and well-worn settings, and the storytelling juxtaposes reflective moments when Kelly absorbs the travails of her life with the emotional explosions that offer an outlet and come with their own fallout.
Likewise, the visual style can be both observational and textured and then raw and jagged, emphasizing both sides of its main character. Kelly is caring and sensitive, but she also carries a heavy responsibility. This burden exacts an emotional toll on her, and the film’s excellent writing captures with precision and economy just how draining it is, and how reflection and restlessness feed into one another.
Actor Laya Lewis’s compelling performance is the foundation for this character-centered narrative. She captures the many dimensions of Kelly’s life and relationships, starting with the heartbreaking struggles she contends with as she cares for her grandmother, played by actor Joan Hodges in a brief but powerful performance that makes clear how devastating dementia is.
Kelly exhibits great patience and calm, but Lewis’s nuanced portrayal makes sure we see the herculean efforts it takes to stifle her natural reactions to react to the more difficult incidents that build up. These suppressed feelings are transferred into a rage and anger that gives Kelly a short fuse and temper in other areas of her life. And this fuels her in the ring, where a seemingly small incident blows up into a huge brawl — one that makes her realize how close she is to the edge.
Complex, clear and resonant, Swing for the Fences ends on a muted but poignant note of both relief and love, with a small moment of tenderness between Kelly and her grandma that offers a small ray of light in Kelly’s sometimes bleak world. Viewers understand just why Kelly has taken on the role and why she’s willing to absorb its various indignities, hurts and traumas. And we understand, too, just what it takes to be strong, both in and out of the ring.