Picks and Pans Review: Personal Best

Producer-director-screenwriter Robert Towne has fallen dismally short of his own personal best. He wrote The Last Detail and Chinatown, but, in his directorial debut, he seems to have put together this film about female Olympic pentathletes from news clips about women’s sports and body building. He shows us that women want to win as much as guys do, they talk dirty, they flex their pecs, they take drugs, and they pair off in lesbian affairs. It’s around one such relationship that the film is structured. Leggy Mariel (Manhattan) Hemingway and an older seductress, played by 1976 Olympic hurdler Patrice Donnelly, are the lovers. Beyond the bed scenes, there doesn’t seem to be much affection between the women, though; when Donnelly’s competitive zeal causes Hemingway to escape to a male lover, it’s hard to mourn their breakup. Mariel acts mostly by sniffling and whining at Donnelly. Of the cast, only Scott Glenn (the ex-con heavy in Urban Cowboy), as the women’s coach, stands out. Towne uses clichéd slow-motion track-and-field footage, pans up female thighs and groins and lingers on high-toned muscles as if he had sculpted them. His attempts at pumping irony into the script by gender role reversals—apparently to justify lesbianism—are flaccid. The beefy male Olympians are gratuitously emasculated, reduced to ironing clothes, carrying beach umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun, and shaking pom-poms on the sidelines while the girls play touch football. The sound track over one sequence says it all: It’s the Doobie Brothers’ What a Fool Believes. (R)

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