Personal Best

Director: Robert Towne
Year Released: 1982
Rating: 2.5

Pentathlete-in-training (Mariel Hemingway) sleeps with - and competes with - fellow athlete Patrice Donnelly (more or less playing herself) but their hard-nosed coach (Scott Glenn) pits them against each other and tries to disrupt their relationship. Towne turns the body into a fetish object - there are many close-up shots of calves, shoulders, sweaty brows - which makes sense considering it's a movie about athletics, though the main romantic plot doesn't seem fully integrated: in other words, the taut, nude bodies and lesbianism act as a distraction from the story about fitness and competition (or vice versa, depending on your perspective). Those that accuse Towne's method as being sexist are slightly off-base: yes, the picture more or less reduces its females to their bodies - and if they were better developed as actual people this criticism would be null and void - but anyone that's ever followed sports has most likely heard commentators and critics discussing in details the strengths and weaknesses behind a particular athlete's hands, feet, legs, height, weight and other physical characteristics - it's just unavoidable (though Towne is just very explicit about it). The actual track and field footage is impressively stylized - noted cinematographer Michael Chapman makes it look good while the chop-it-up approach to editing provides tension.