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.
Full disclosure: as an alum of the University of Oregon, I am predisposed to having a soft spot for “Tracktown,” which was shot on location in Eugene and at the University of Oregon’s campus. Eugene, the eponymous “Tracktown,” is the mecca of competitive running and the University of Oregon routinely produces the world’s best track stars, dating back to Steve Prefontaine. Nike co-founders Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman developed their first shoes while they were involved with Oregon’s track program. “Tracktown” though, isn’t about Eugene’s illustrious past – it’s a story about its ultramodern present, complete with a millennial protagonist and a backdrop featuring stunning training facilities. Starring real-life Olympic runner Alexi Pappas (who is also credited as a producer, writer, and director) as the awkward yet endearing Olympic hopeful Plumb Marigold, “Tracktown” presents the complexities of growing up as an elite athlete.
The film, a semi-fictionalized telling of Pappas’ experience training for the Olympics, takes place over the three days between Plumb’s qualification for the Olympic trial finals and the finals themselves. Plumb lives in Eugene with her well-meaning but occasionally overbearing father (Andy Buckley), himself a former track star. Her daily regimen is a sight to behold: some sort of unidentifiable powder consumed at every meal, an altitude tent encompassing her bed, mandated afternoon naps, and a daily workout that looks like it could kill the average person. Running is Plumb’s life, and Plumb’s life is running. That changes, however, when she sustains an injury during the Olympic trial semifinal and is forced to take an unheard-of day off to avoid exacerbating it before the final.
Plumb Marigold’s day off, it turns out, is much more interesting than it has any business being. Her crush on the earnest baker Sawyer (Chase Offerle) quickly blossoms into an overnight romance, with Plumb encountering for the first time, all the attending intricacies of sex and love. “Tracktown” paints a sweet and compelling picture of the struggles of emerging adulthood, in addition to offering an unfettered (and one would imagine, due to Pappas’ involvement, highly accurate) look into the world of competitive running. The characters – from Plumb to her zealous father and insecure, estranged mother – do not seem to have any ulterior motives or hidden agendas. Instead, they are exactly who they seem to be. In many other films, this might be a problem, but it seems to work for “Tracktown.” Just like affable dreamboat Sawyer, the picture’s earnestness is its greatest strength.
In a world that seems to offer more dystopian poison by the week, an uncomplicated feel-good story is the perfect antidote. It is hard to tell how much creative license Pappas took with the character of Plumb, which speaks to her tremendous ability both as a writer and actress. In the era of the male antihero, it is refreshing to see a film that focuses on a strong female protagonist and manages to avoid overly-sexualizing her. Take a journey into the self-contained world of “Tracktown,” and you will find yourself lost in its simplicity and beauty.
Now playing in select theaters