"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: mariel hemingway

Million Dollar Movie

From P. Kael:

Personal Best is a celebration of modern American women’s long-legged bodies. It’s also a coming-of-age movie that shows what most us go through–the painful experiences that later on we like to see as comedy. The surprise of this film–written, produced, and directed by the celebrated screenwriter Robert Towne (The Last Detail, Chinatown, Shampoo)–is that most of the story is told non-verbally, and character is revealed in movement. This is perhaps the first directing debut by a writer that buries motivation and minimizes the importance of words. Towne may have had to cut a couple of strings off his fiddle, but he plays a great lush, romantic tune. He bears down only on sensory experience, and he uses the actors, who are in fact athletes, as dancers. He presents a physical world that few of us know much about–the world of women athletes–and when he shows the adolescent Chris Cahill (Mariel Hemingway) preparing for the start of a race by hammering a block into the ground it’s like Melville doing a how-to-chapter. This is a very smart and super-subtle movie, in which the authenticity of the details draws us in (as it does in Melville); Towne cares enough tot get them right, and he cares about the physical world in a reverent, fanatic way. When he shows Chris and the other heroine arm-wrestling, he concentrates on their throbbing veins and their sinews and how the muscles play off one another. He breaks down athletic events into specific details; you watch the athletes’ calves or some other part of them, and you get an exact sense of how their bodies work–it’s sensual and sexual, and it’s informative, too. This film celebrates women’s bodies without turning them into objects; it turns them into bodies. There’s an undercurrent of flabbergasted awe. Everything in the movie is physically charged…Watching this movie, you feel that you really can learn something essential about girls from looking at their thighs.

Feb 22, 1982

Million Dollar Movie


One of my favorite movies is also one of the better sports movies–Robert Towne’s directorial debut, “Personal Best.” It is a coming-of-age story about a young runner (Mariel Hemingway), a love triangle between the runner, a veteran jock (Patrice Donnelly), and their hard-ass coach (Scott Glenn).

It is an old story well told. Towne’s dialogue is as sharp as always and he is generous with his actors, especially the athletes who were untrained actors.

Michael Chapman’s cinematography is gorgeous. The movie was released in 1982 but has a late ’70s feel. Also, nice use of Billy Joel’s “Rosalinda’s Eyes:”

Well worth your time if you’ve never seen it before. Man, I’d love to see it on a big screen some day.

feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver