tracktown_1Year: 2016
Director(s): Alexi Pappas, Jeremy Teicher
Writer(s): Alexi Pappas, Jeremy Teicher
Region of Origin: US
Rating: Unrated
Color, 88 mins

Synopsis: A young, talented, and lonely long-distance runner twists her ankle as she prepares for the Olympic Trials and must do something she’s never done before: take a day off. (Source)

Those of us who’ve ever dove headfirst after a goal or dream know that its sometimes easy to get lost in our determination, forgetting what we’re fighting for or why it means so much in the first place. It’s this feeling that Tracktown captures so well, mixing effervescent charm and heart with an uplifting message we can never hear enough. Benefitting from the autobiographical experiences of Olympic athlete, star and co-writer, Alexi Pappas, the film (also directed by Jeremy Teicher) is a refreshing new entry into the sports genre, one steeped in intimate human stakes while also acting as a sharp contrast to the testosterone and masculinity that has overcrowded the scene for so long. 

Set in the quiet town of Eugene, Oregon, the story focuses on a young girl named Plum (Alexi Pappas), who has devoted her entire life to one goal: getting on the Olympic running team. Living by a strict regimen of intense training and a calculated diet (downing raw eggs, lots of protein and greens straight out of a plastic bag) there’s little other than running that Plum knows or even cares about. After barely making it as a finalist for the Olympic Trials, Plum’s given non-negotiable orders to take a day off, allowing her body to recover before the final race. Frightened and terrified of slowing down a few days before such a monumental challenge, the jilted athlete is forced to discover a new world, opening her eyes to the small town life and people who have been just out of her purview this entire time. 

Part fish out of water tale, part affirmation of how our greatest enemies are ourselves, the film is an entertaining mix of warmth, humor and quirk that’s easily worth cheering for. Resting squarely on Plum as she navigates the town of Eugene, her wild-eyed awe of the little things we take for granted provides a fascinating, cute reexamination of the world around us. For a sports film to be about the necessity of avoiding training is a nice twist, making for an intimate odyssey that evokes larger universal ideas of self-worth and becoming comfortable in our own skin. With its brisk pace and playful approach to character, the film is colorful and vibrant, giving us a look at the sacrifices and mental conditioning that make athletes successful, while still delivering an accessible story about the importance of finding time to be happy.

tracktown_2With the attention on Pappas front and center, she shines as Plum, evoking a genuine sense of inner turmoil and determination that keeps us firmly invested in what’s going on. There’s also an innocence to her as she rediscovers and tries to figure out what she wants from everything, with a physicality and natural charisma that helps to ground her extraordinary situation in a very relatable way. We’ve seen this arc before, but she delivers it with a new context and makes it feel new and relevant again. Rounding out the cast are Andy Buckley as Burt and Rachel Dratch’s Gail, Plum’s father and mother respectively. There’s an interesting dynamic going on between the three, with Buckley and Dratch bringing out important qualities from Pappas’ Plum, crystalizing the important relationships in our lives that keep us afloat. Chase Offerle’s Sawyer, a love interest is charismatic, but his subplot feels a bit too surfacey, compared to the rest of the film’s nuance.

Tracktown is confident and fresh, propped up by some real talent and giving a well-worn genre the variation it deserves. Whether you’re a sports fan or not, there’s a lot to love about the film’s view on life, dreams and aspirations – I’m excited to see what both Pappas and Teicher do next.

SG