Directed by: Jonathon Link. Starring: Chris Norton, Emily Norton, Mike Barwis. Runtime: 1h 33 min. Released: February 23, 2021.
Based on the autobiography The Seven Longest Yards by Chris and Emily Norton, this new documentary 7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story depicts Chris Norton’s journey of physical therapy as he works his way back from a terrible football injury. At 18 years old at Luther College in 2010, Chris took a freak tackle and was left paralyzed from the neck down.
If you’re familiar with Norton’s story, this is a film that is very hard to spoil as Chris and Emily went viral, to the tune over 300 million combined views, for Chris walking Emily seven yards down the aisle. The film isn’t about the end; it’s about the journey there and the perseverance by Chris in his recovery.
The doc, directed by Jonathon Link, mixes some re-enactments and archive footage throughout Chris’ recovery. The film is mostly told through re-enactment, though some of it could just as easily be archive footage because the people play themselves and Chris doesn’t look like he’s aged a day since college.
The main scene that’s clearly re-enacted is Chris’ injury and the day of the event back in 2010. This is one of the many things the film nails as we feel everything we’re supposed to feel; the way the breath goes out of the crowd, and especially the fear for Chris and the heartbreak of a career ended before it really began. Chris was in his freshman year as a kid special enough to get on the field as a freshman on a roster of over 120 players. We’re never asked to pity Chris; just asked to go through his recovery with him. It especially inspires when we consider he was given a three per cent chance of ever moving again. It’s truly remarkable.
While the film is about the journey towards the aisle scene, as a fan I thought it could have been handled better. It will work for many as Chris’ motivational speaking can be heard over it and how Chris got to that point is edited with the walk. I would have loved to have seen those speeches and a recap of his journey after the moment or just before it. Walking her down the aisle is a big moment and I want to feel like I’m at the wedding. A moment that raw and emotional should been able to speak for itself more.
Throughout the film, there’s a fine balance between talking head and re-enactment and interviews with Chris himself that drive the pacing. Many of the talking heads give strong insight, including Chris’ mother, Debbie Norton. She brings the emotion as you can tell how proud she is of her son’s journey because she either starts her interviews with tears in her eyes or she starts to get teary within seconds.
We cover a lot of bases quickly and there’s a lot of good material here, like when we see Chris’ college buddies help him out at school. It shows how many people rallied around Chris and that’s great. The film really picks up, too, when Emily is introduced. My favourite scenes were when we got to the foster family aspect of the film and learned how truly compassionate both Chris and Emily are.
The chronological order that everything is told in makes it feel like it’s lacking something that could have made this fantastic, as it very much feels like a film structured by the chapters in their book. That family aspect is covered within about five minutes and these scenes are too quick because there is so much heart here that it definitely could have been expanded on. Chris and Emily are such likable people that this story seems primed for a Hollywood adaptation.
There are so many things here that felt fascinating but before I knew it, we were already moving onto the next thing. The film felt like a summarization, but very much makes me want to check out their book to know more about them as people. I’m thankful that Chris and Emily shared their story with the world and 7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story very much inspires, but with more depth it could have been even more special.
7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story is available on digital platforms now.