Oscar-winning screenwriter Robert Towne (CHINATOWN; SHAMPOO) made his directorial debut with this uneven but affecting study of romantic and athletic commitment set against the background of women's track and field. At the 1976 Olympic trials, pentathlete Tory Skinner (onetime track star
Patrice Donnelly in her film debut) and hurdler Chris Cahill (Mariel Hemingway) meet after the former qualifies for the US team, while the latter runs badly. The two become lovers, and Tory persuades her reluctant coach, Terry Tingloff (Scott Glenn), to allow Chris to train with her under his
guidance. Eventually, Tingloff convinces Chris to train for the pentathlon, creating a rivalry between Chris and Tory that leads to the breakup of their relationship. Later, Chris falls for Denny (Kenny Moore), a onetime Olympic medalist in swimming; then, against Tingloff's wishes, Chris renews
her friendship with Tory during the 1980 Olympic trials.
Although Towne's script is a little talky and heavy-handed, he nonetheless captures the essence of the competitive impulse, exploring both the "killer instinct" and the inner drive to compete only with oneself. The lesbian love story at the film's center is less well developed, but still
engaging, its poignancy heightened by the well-cast Hemingway's understated performance. Visually, PERSONAL BEST is frequently interesting, if occasionally studied. Towne's over-reliance on slow motion ultimately undercuts the poetry of motion he seeks to convey, but his camera placement during
the track and field action is almost always inventive, as is the film's editing. Moreover, PERSONAL BEST offers a detailed, believable insider's portrait of the world of track and field. This very different sports film isn't for everyone, but patient viewers should find many small pleasures in it.
Olympic marathoner Frank Shorter and veteran sportscaster Charlie Jones provide the commentary during the Olympic trials.
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- Released: 1982
- Rating: R
- Review: Oscar-winning screenwriter Robert Towne (CHINATOWN; SHAMPOO) made his directorial debut with this uneven but affecting study of romantic and athletic commitment set against the background of women's track and field. At the 1976 Olympic trials, pentathlete… (more)