This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. They also get to include some of their own thoughts about the movie, if they choose. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.
Written & Directed by Alexi Pappas and Jeremy Teicher
The Olympics-to-movies track is not one populated with much success. You need only look at the quality of Gymkata (starring gymnast Kurt Thomas) or Can’t Stop the Music (starring track star Caitlyn Jenner) to see how dubious these pictures can be. In a recent pre-Oscars interview, when asked about what movies he’s watched recently, director Paul Thomas Anderson namedropped Tracktown as one he’d watched and liked. Intriguing, yes? I have to wonder how closely Mr. Anderson was paying attention to the film as it played on his television because there is something so off about Tracktown.
Plum Marigold (Alexi Pappas) has lived within a bubble of track. All she does is practice and compete, egged on by her supportive dad, Burt (Andy Buckley). They are estranged from her mom, Gail (Rachel Dratch), who keeps coming around despite not being allowed to. She’s basically having mental health issues, and the film does not handle it well. Plum is a real weirdo and collapses during a qualifying race. She makes the final but is told by her doctor to take some time off and let her mind and body rest. During this brief break, she finally expresses her feelings (somewhat awkwardly) to Sawyer, the boy she likes. The two fumble through one of the strangest romantic comedy courtships you will ever see and break up…I think… I’m not sure. I am glad that I was high as hell while watching this movie.
From a purely technical perspective, Tracktown isn’t terrible. I thought the lighting was pretty good for a low-budget indie, and the camerawork is very competent. Unfortunately, that’s about as much as I can compliment because this is a real odd duck. Within the first five minutes, I had to pause the film and find an interview with Alexi Pappas to determine if she was playing dumb or that is how she actually talks. It turns out her performance as Plum is an acting choice, and what a choice it is. The director, Pappas’ husband, Jeremy Teicher, seems to have given his performers the direction to be as weird as possible. I wasn’t sure if we were meant to believe she has inherited some of her mother’s mental health issues; I think that might be the case. But that doesn’t track for everyone who is talking and behaving like aliens posing as humans.
The worst of these is Chase Offerle, who plays the love interest Sawyer. There is no explanation for such bizarre line delivery. Offerle plays Sawyer as a dead-eyed open-mouth moron who has nothing that would genuinely appeal to any woman. He lives a grungy lifestyle that we’re supposed to think is coolly bohemian. Instead, he reads like a passive-aggressive creep. Sawyer’s relationship with Plum feels predatory almost, and there was no point where I was rooting for them to get back together. The route the script takes with their romance doesn’t feel satisfying and ends up just ending because the movie has to stop at some point.
They have a sex scene near the end that isn’t graphic, which looks very intimate in how it’s filmed but is ultimately ruined by Offerle’s performance, or at least how his character is written. However, I did find the moment where Plum expresses concern about how her toned body will be perceived by him to be done sweetly. She’s worried that she’s too muscular and says she “looks like a boy.” He assures her that is not the case, but he’s such a damn creep. I’d rather he wasn’t in the scene, and it was someone else.
The best part of Tracktown is when it depicts the life of an Olympic-level runner. You can see Pappas’ experience on the screen with the details surrounding training and the track culture amongst her fellow athletes. Pappas herself has a lot of charm if you squint through the strange performance she’s giving. There’s a genuine quality to her, and unlike many other athletes, she is giving a performance here. Go watch Charles Barkley or Michael Phelps on SNL to see what most athletes look like when trying to play a character. What causes the movie to stumble is the emphasis on the love story when this should have stuck to its coming of age storyline and maybe explored mental health issues among athletes. This isn’t the worst thing you could sit down and watch, but it is painfully bland and needs a more skilled director and a few more drafts of the script.