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What does it take to be great, to be so good at something it consumes you, defines you, shapes every waking and sleeping moment of your life? Is it an obsession if it is all you know how to do? Sports dramas are all about chasing the dream and the toll it takes, the discipline and commitment one needs to be the best they can be. But what if you have to take a day off?
Distance running is often said to be an individual competition, the open road ahead a lonely stretch of personal pleasure and pain that is the eternal balance, constantly driving one forward. With Tracktown, the daily grind and devotion to the pursuit of Olympic gold is all that matters, though it is a single day without it that changes everything, when the chance to stop and look around has profound effect.
Plumb Marigold (Alexi Pappas) lives in Oregon and runs for a living, meaning her life is only about the sport. Every single day of her young life, she takes to it with unbridled passion, every step in her daily routine, from what she wears to what she eats and where she goes focused on training. She heads out every day with her teammate and friend, Whitney (Rebecca Friday), putting miles and miles under her feet before working out in state-of-the-art facilities, preparing her body for the rigors of world-class competition. Plumb lives with her father Burt (Andy Buckley), who is highly-attentive to her workouts and needs, supporting her efforts with care and diligence while her estranged mother Gail (Rachel Dratch) makes attempts to get back into her life. As the pressures mount, she strains herself in a preliminary heat, placing high enough to make the tryouts for the US team, but requiring a full day of absolute rest if she is to be ready, something that becomes a Herculean task in itself.
Written and directed by Pappas and Jeremy Teicher, Tracktown is in some ways a bit biographical as Pappas is herself an accomplished international competitor and Olympic athlete and sprinkles the story with much about the personal details about the absurdities and triumphs of what her experience has been like (though she has said that Plumb is purely fictional). To be sure, as both the director and star of the story, there is a great deal here that feels authentic and both she and Teicher are careful not to romanticize the almost abusive attitude a distance competitive runner puts their bodies through, while also capturing much about what the addiction of running truly means to those that become hooked by the high it provides. There are great sacrifices Plumb (and by extension, Pappas) makes in achieving the incredible physical performance abilities of her body, and the film does well in treating this with a kind of naivety the young runner surely feels as she struggles for greatness, noting how harshly her training has impacted her as a woman, including the two-year loss of her menstrual cycle.
Pappas is of course a wonder to watch as she runs, and when she’s not, she plays Plumb as doe-eyed and quirky, lanky and awkward, fumbling with her clearly unstable mother and the pangs of a first love with Sawyer (Chase Offerle), a deli and bakery clerk whom she decides to get know better as a distraction from her want for running. The film portrays Plumb as a sort of ingenue, a twenty-one-year child who frantically colors with crayons to release energy while not running and narrating her story with bits of perceived wisdom in quotes from Shakespeare to the Cheshire Cat. It’s not exactly addressed as stunted mental development, but does give the film a few moments of unease as the woman seems unclear and ill-prepared about the metamorphosis her body and mind requires she be doing at the age she is, something perhaps that is intentional by the filmmakers.
Tracktown is a well-made and enjoyable film that bends the drama and comedy in both directions, sometimes leaving Plum a little out of touch, and while some roles, such Dratch’s underused and obvious character feel a little unnecessary, the movie is, in its 90-minute run time, an uplifting story that succeeds from the sheer force of Pappas’ charms. Offbeat and a little familiar, it’s a solid pick.
Movie description: Tracktown is a 2017 sports drama about a middle distance runner preparing for the Olympics who faces a crisis of faith when she is forced to do something she's never done before.
Director(s): Alexi Pappas, Jeremy Teicher
Actor(s): Alexi Pappas, Chase Offerle, Rachel Dratch
Genre: Drama, Comedy