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At Lowell High, the senior class is collectively freaking out. Finishing up their tenure at the top-ranked public high school in San Francisco, the most academically ambitious teens in the nation are knee-deep in the cutthroat college application process, with all eyes and essays trained on a handful of uber-elite universities. As they stack countless extracurriculars on top of demanding AP courses, prom is the last thing on these brainiacs’ minds. Documentarian Debbie Lum gets us rooting hard for a memorable batch of charming and energetic teens (and their comparatively maniacal parents) as they navigate this critical moment, the culmination of years and years of tireless effort. Along with this breathless tension, Lum takes a hard look at the mercurial standards of frequently opaque college admissions offices; Lowell High’s student body is majority Asian American, and its students are saddled with stereotypes that greatly affect their acceptance rate to choice Ivy League schools. For all the stress onscreen, Try Harder! maintains a spirited and often funny tone as it exposes a fundamentally broken system, thanks to the temperament of its indefatigable teens. 2021 Sundance Film Festival. (MK)


Presented with support from UW-Madison Department of Asian American Studies.


  • Year
    2021
  • Runtime
    84 minutes
  • Country
    USA
  • Director
    Debbie Lum
  • Producer
    Debbie Lum, Lou Nakasako, Nico Opper
  • Cinematographer
    Lou Nakasako, Kathy Huang
  • Editor
    Amy Ferraris, Andrew Gersh
  • Music
    Diana Salier