For Plumb Marigold (Alexi Pappas), there’s only one way to operate. “Stick to my routine,” she says, before dutifully setting off to do just that. The long-distance runner has given her entire life over to her sport, and as “Tracktown” opens, she’s mere days away from the most important race of her life: The Olympic Trials. Plumb’s life is one of regulation and regiment, and though the earliest scenes in Pappas and Jeremy Teicher’s film (the pair also wrote and produced the feature) hint that her lifestyle may be wearing on her, the seemingly popular runner appears to be all in on whatever her latest pursuit demands of her. And then she gets hurt.
Plumb’s injury isn’t a serious one – in fact, her doctor’s only prescription is that she rest for a single day – but for the profoundly driven Plumb, a single day off is pretty much unfathomable. Initially undone by concepts like “resting” and “not running” and “maybe just kicking back for a little bit,” the high-strung Plumb attempts to go about her daily routine as best she can. Initially, it doesn’t work, but as Plumb wills herself into loosening up, so does the film.
Like the fictional Plumb, Pappas is a well-regarded Olympic hopeful in the running world, and she brings her own experiences and emotions to the table, adding a level of veracity to “Tracktown” that’s compelling. She and Teicher never shy away from showing the minutiae of Plumb’s life, from the generous scoops of protein powder she heaps on every meal to the admiring looks she receives from fellow runners to her absolutely grinding workout routines. The film is frequently overlaid with voiceover from Pappas, issuing a string of inspirational quotes (from luminaries as varied as Haruki Murakami and Albus Dumbledore), and what first feels like a goofy motivational tool soon becomes a good-natured peek inside Plumb’s psyche.
Yet, where “Tracktown” really goes for broke is in showing just how sheltered Plumb is, and how her dedication to a sport that she clearly loves has infantilized every other aspect of her life. Running and athletics aren’t the bad guy in “Tracktown” – in a film this well-meaning, absolutely no one is the bad guy – but the things that running has done to Plumb aren’t dumbed down or hidden from view (if nothing else, the film provides one hell of a lesson about lactic acid).
Early in the film, the newly injured Plumb is forced to confront the lesser-seen physical tolls her sport has taken on her body, including whole years without a menstrual cycle. Plumb, who rarely seems to even have the time to think of anything beyond running, must suddenly grapple with terrible possibilities, and she’s soon asking her best friend Whitney (Rebecca Friday) if they’re going to be able to have kids.
“Tracktown” reduces most of these concerns to smaller situations, however, as the film is primarily focused on the single day that Plumb takes off from her running routine. In the space of just 24 hours, Plumb manages to cram in nearly every growing up experience she never had as a kid — even though the film pokes fun at Plumb’s young appearance, it is jarring to hear her say she’s 21 years old — including hanging out with a crush, getting in a fight her best friend and asserting herself to her very different parents (played by a well-cast Rachel Dratch and Andy Buckley).
It’s a coming-of-age tale for the stunted set, and one that deftly navigates conventions at every turn. Although “Tracktown” lacks edge, it’s just so relentlessly sweet and Pappas is so effervescent on screen that those missteps in tone are easy to forgive. The film approaches the oft-told sports story with a fresh perspective and the kind of honesty that is normally shunted aside in pursuit of some ideal of athletic perfection. For Plumb, the “big race” that concludes the film isn’t actually a race, it’s an amble through regular life and the bucking of routine. She’s done the work, now she can collect the real prize.
“Tracktown” premiered at the 2016 Los Angeles Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.