“Pumping Iron,” the film that helped make Arnold Schwarzenegger a household name, probably has more scenes of weightlifting than the new sports documentary “Lift Like a Girl,” now streaming as part of the Impact Series, but it doesn’t have the heart.
Director Mayye Zayed spent four years shooting this fly-on-the-wall documentary. It’s about weightlifting, but like all good sports movies, the sport isn’t the entire point. This is the story of the complex relationship between a coach and an athlete.
Captain Ramadan is the coach. A legend in Alexandria, Egypt he’s trained the country’s most famous weightlifters, his daughter Nahla Ramadan and Abeer Abdel Rahman, the first Arab woman to win two Olympic medals. We meet his latest protégé, Zebiba, when she is a determined fourteen-year-old, hoping to one day add her name to the list of Captain’s famous students. The film follows years of their relationship, as Captain pushes Zebiba to be the best and strongest, physically and mentally, she can be. “Prioritizing boys is outdated,” the Captain says. “Girls need to be as strong as a bull.”
“Lift Like a Girl” places the bond between athlete and trainer front and center. It is a push-and-pull relationship, intricate, often volatile, but always rooted in encouragement and tough love.
This is real life, not a Hollywood version of events, so Zebiba’s journey isn’t always an easy one. Wins and losses, physical and mental issues are present in equal measures to the against-all-odds inspiration provided by the story.
“Lift Like a Girl” is a sports documentary but Zayed deepens the story by weaving numerous threads throughout. Competition is there, but it happens against the backdrop of a changing Egypt and messages about the importance of mentors. Like the people it documents, it is dynamic and scrappy, but still wears its heart on its pumped-up sleeve.