Tracktown

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Tracktown
"A strong debut from such a young creative talent, the film skips with ease between the lyrical and the mundane."

"Gold medals aren't really made of gold. They're made of sweat, determination and a hard-to-find alloy called 'guts'." Now there's an opening line to make you feel queasy, but bear with it. Heroine Plum (a name which apparently doesn't have the same connotations in her US homeland as it does in the UK) has devoted her life to running. She's 21 but looks like an anorexic 15 year old. The impact of her single-minded pursuit hasn't just been physical. With little social contact, she tries to build her life around motivational slogans, which pepper the film. It's never clear how seriously we are expected to take these, but they often provide moments of absurd humour, and ironically they make her a very distinctive character.

Plum is played by co-writer and co-director Alexi Pappas, who is a runner herself (it's hard to see how anyone else could achieve that distinctive body shape) and drew on her own experience to tell a story with all the messiness and contradictions of real life. Plum's parents are separated but she's happy that way, resentful of the expectations of a mother who was never there for her when it mattered. Her mother's easy-going attitude to life and general failure to take responsibility clashes with her own aggressive work ethic. Now she is approaching one of the biggest events of her life - Olympic trials - and the last thing she needs is her mother turning up out of the blue, wanting to be supportive. Until something else happens, leaving her really out of her depth: her trainer tells her that in order to avoid injury, she has to take a day off.

Plum has never had a day off in her life. She wanders round the small town where she lives, not knowing what to do with herself. Is her approach to training a coping device? Given this chance to explore, will she emerge as somebody different? She drops into a local café, seduces the young man who works there (Chase Offerle), gradually inviting us to wonder who is taking advantage of who. "You're like somebody from a different universe," he says. She explores the trailer camp where he lives, watches him chase errant chickens. Is she a tourist in this universe, or will she embrace it?

A strong debut from such a young creative talent, the film skips with ease between the lyrical and the mundane. Plum is sweet and likeable and ruthless and other people's lives are caught up in her wake. The film is not overly expository but we see a great deal of the differentness of a dedicated athlete's life. A scene in which the altitude tent where she sleeps provides a safe haven from domestic strife raises questions about how it all began, but she's more interested in the future than the past. In the meantime, in between time, life happens, complicated and abrupt, taking its own course.

Reviewed on: 10 May 2017
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A young woman whose life has revolved entirely around running finds herself thrown for a loop when told to take a day off.

Director: Alexi Pappas, Jeremy Teicher

Writer: Alexi Pappas, Jeremy Teicher

Starring: Alexi Pappas, Chase Offerle, Rachel Dratch, Andy Buckley

Year: 2016

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US

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