October 23, 2009

Justify My Netflix: Personal Best

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Personal Best

Today's movie: Personal Best, 1982 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because I have a series of vague early-teen cable-television memories of this film -- something about Mariel Hemingway being a track-and-field star in a hot lesbian relationship, and a whole lot of gratuitous nudity -- so thought it was finally time to watch it as an adult and get the full scoop on this '80s sleeper hit.

The reality: Oh, so much better than I was expecting it to be. In fact, after watching it now, I can easily see why this holds such a revered cult status among so many actual lesbians; because despite it indeed using the subject as an exploitative excuse to showcase a whole series of incredibly toned women completely naked, simply for the sake of showcasing them naked, it's also one of the only mainstream movies in history to take a complicated and realistic look at the subject of lesbianism, using Hemingway's young and confused character Chris Cahill to explore the messy mix of friendship, competitiveness, awe and lust that marks so many women's first forays into same-sex relationships, versus the older and more orientation-assured fellow athlete who becomes her first (and maybe only) lesbian lover, real-life track champion Patrice Donnelly. (But of course, all this should be expected from writer/director Robert Towne, past penner of fellow complex dramas Chinatown, Tough Guys Don't Dance, The Firm and a lot more.) And in the meanwhile, the movie itself looks absolutely gorgeous, using those beautiful cameras from the late '70s along with a solemn respect for athleticism to deliver a whole series of dreamlike montages of sports heroes in action, an almost identical look and feel to similar running homage Chariots of Fire released just one year later.

Oh, and P.S., this movie is worth the rental price alone just for trainer Scott Glenn's hilariously misogynistic drunken tirade about halfway through. "You know what being named Women's Coach of the Year actually means? Jack sh-t! I could've been a football coach, you know! Do you actually think that Chuck Noll has to worry that Franco Harris is going to cry because Terry Bradshaw won't talk to him?"

Strangest piece of trivia: As the finished film still clearly indicates, Towne had been planning on ending the movie at the actual 1980 Olympics in Moscow. When President Carter initiated a boycott of the Games, then, Towne was forced to scribble in some last-minute changes to the final dialogue.

Worth your time? Absolutely

Filed by Jason Pettus at 12:05 PM, October 23, 2009. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |