Knock on the door of a bad faith community and the loyal gatekeepers will attack. Criticize the popular thing and feel the wrath of a mob. In A Peloton of One, directed by John Bernardo and Steven E. Mallorca, sexual abuse survivor Dave Ohlmuller questions the motives of American legislators who support a statue of limitations in sexual abuse cases. He embarks on a 12-day bicycle journey from Illinois to New Jersey, hoping to heal emotional wounds while fighting against a popular organization (the Catholic Church) and its bad faith minions (self-serving lawmakers) who protect the world’s worst hypocrites (pedophile priests). A Peloton of One celebrates the good faith of people who support/believe sexual assault survivors and give them space to find peace on their own terms.
A Peloton of One transcends above the average faith-based doc when the filmmakers identify road bumps in Ohlmuller’s journey. Traditionalists would likely double down on the “soul murder” and the subject’s search for “some sense of life,” but Bernardo and Mallorca suggest early on that the focal journey won’t end with clarity or absolute enlightenment. At the 38-minute mark, Joe Capozzi — another sexual assault survivor — discusses Ohlmuller’s mental health struggles with surprising honesty and transparency. He worries about the bigger picture, specifically in terms of Ohlmuller seeking out professional therapy. It’s a paralyzing and crucial moment, as it reminds the audience that one can share grief with a friend or family member but still not understand their emotional journey.
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Female voices strengthen A Peloton of One’s narrative and raise awareness about the main issue: the uneven statue of limitations laws from state to state for sexual abuse cases. A survivor named Birdie Farrell discusses legislation in New York and how she was expected to report her assaulter by age 23. Mary McHale recalls the shame she felt after coming out to a priest and being groomed by that same man. Marci Hamilton, the CEO of CHILD USA, astutely states that support for sexual abuse victims is “enough… it’s just enough.”
In perhaps A Peloton of One’s most complex segment, the aforementioned Capozzi wonders how Ohlmuller will process a meeting with a 15-year-old survivor/advocate named Tommy Williams. The sequence just might inspire victims of all ages to speak out instead of holding onto trauma for decades. As A Peloton of One points out, most survivors don’t say anything until age 52; an unfortunate truth that makes the Williams segment especially powerful. The teenager carries an unfathomable amount of cerebral weight in public forums, knowing that his voice will save lives.
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Some viewers may feel confused about A Peloton of One’s titular premise. Meaning, the film celebrates Ohlmuller’s willingness to ride alone while choosing yoga sessions over traditional therapy. In the final act, a man tells the subject that “You did it without the peleton,” which seems to betray the idea of group support. However, the totality of the documentary makes the case that occasionally riding alone, so to speak, is indeed beneficial for one’s mental health. It’s important to prioritize moments of self-reflection, and to set boundaries with good faith people who want to help. Only Ohlmuller can tell his story — he isn’t defined by the past, by a documentary or by bad faith lawmakers who turn a blind eye.
A Peloton of One released digitally in March 2022.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor and chief film critic.