Far from the Creek, Van Der Beek is supplied with no paddles but plenty of oars.

Backwards: James Van Der Beek in a Sculling Drama

You can’t go home again—or at least that’s the feeling of ex-jock Abi, who fails to make the cut for her second shot as an Olympic rower. “You’re 30 years old,” warns her mother in this wholesome sports melodrama, and she pushes Abi toward an MBA program. Instead, Abi takes a coaching gig at her old Philadelphia prep school, where her former boyfriend Geoff (James Van Der Beek) is conveniently now athletic director. As the writer, producer, and star of Backwards, Sarah Megan Thomas is in fact an ex-rower, and she convincingly portrays the compulsion of an athlete who wakes up for a 5 a.m. workout—then realizes there isn’t one. As an actress, she holds her own with Van Der Beek, but the performances here are secondary to the many montages of rowing (ponytails backlit by the golden sun) and training (including not one but two trips up the famous Rocky stairs). Abi mentors a pair of teen girls on her team, explaining via Thomas Eakins how “rowing is an art.” More important, she learns how to relax her jock intensity, get a manicure, and undergo a fashion makeover just in time to chaperone the school prom. And there, 12 years after her first slow dance with Geoff, the DJ naturally cues up Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” Corny and predictable, sure, but Backwards will appeal to a few junior oarswomen around Seattle. Whether it’ll make parents want to get up to drive them to 5 a.m. practice is a different matter.