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Personal Best

Mariel Hemingway , Scott Glenn , Robert Towne    R (Restricted)   DVD
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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It takes a lot to win. This movie is usually considered a classic of lesbian cinema, and that's too bad: its true sensuality lies in powerful erotic associations with running and the sheer pain of competition. The film opens with a memorable close-up of sweat dripping on tarmac, an early glimpse of a visual style which evolves throughout the picture into almost pornographic slow-motion sequences of high jumps, shot puts, and running legs.

The story follows a young runner (Mariel Hemingway) from a clueless start in the 1976 Olympic trials through a vexed affair with her mentor-competitor (Olympic runner Patrice Donnelly) to a final, triumphant qualifying race for the boycotted 1980 Moscow games. The human elements are told in an almost documentary style, giving an honest, complicated look at the blossoming of friendship into love against the near-military backdrop of world-class competitive sports. Hemingway and Donnelly can act, and their drive to win is compelling, both on the field and in their personal lives. But what really makes the film worth watching are the races--stunning images, beautiful editing, and the timeless drama of athletic endeavor. --Grant Balfour

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Blu-Ray is terrific May 25 2013
Personal Best is a great Olympic movie. A blu-ray version sounds like a terrific idea because this movie is terrific to see on blu-ray when it comes out as soon as possible.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Sexy-period June 25 2001
Format:VHS Tape
This is far and away the sexiest movie I have ever seen. But all you folks who enjoy seeing great big breasts, forget it. Also, if the sight of muscular, slender, not fat, women does not turn you on, forget it. Ms Hemingway and Ms donnelly are both gorgeous ladies; Ms Donnelly has the most beautiful face I have ever seen. Forget the story; there may never have been a story; it is about female pentathletes training for the 1980 Olympics, with the conflicts among the two ladies, their coach and the father of one of the ladies. The movie has a happy ending--I think. I won't worry about it. The dialogue, a lot of the time, is as if the actors are making it up as they go along. Sometimes it works. By far the greatest fault is the mushmouth delivery of the players. If the director had wanted desperately to guarantee that the audience not understand what the characters are saying, he could not have succeeded any better than he did. Would the director recognize a consonant if he could have heard one in this movie? The photography is magnificent: a lot of slow motion, long telephoto shots of the ladies in action on the field. Also, some composite (Maybe that's what they could be called.) shots of one particular activity, in slow motion, switching from one athlete to the next to the next to the next ... as the activity proceeds. Absolutely beautiful! My rating, above, is not for me, necessarily; it is my estimate of what more nearly normal folks would rate it. As for me, I will probably watch it another dozen times. I may leave the sound off, but ...; oh well, maybe two dozen times more!
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5.0 out of 5 stars It's About Expectations Jan. 14 2008
I was lucky that I began seeing films when I did. The beginnings were auspicious - "Far from the Madding Crowd", "Butch Cassidy", "If ...." - but, much as I thought all of these were wonderful films, much as all but "If ...." have stayed with me all this time, I never viewed any of them but once until the advent of DVD, and I'd qualify none as "my favourite film". My favourite film is on offer right here, and it was something I saw four times on its first run.

One thing about "Personal Best" that has, I think, inhibited its recognition is the fact that nobody much has really seen it for what it is. Coming out in 1982, a year after "Chariots of Fire" had taken North America by storm (I've never figured that out yet), "Personal Best" was labelled as a track-and-field film. It also was a new sort of shocker, so the Lesbian theme got a lot of play, and, indeed, one reviewer headed his piece "Chariots of Desire". Its resurgence today is what's apparently "cult status" as a Lesbian film, although a cultist in 2008 would probably remark on the absence of raunch.

I spotted in 1982, and saw even more clearly today, that the film has a nice Californian theme - expectations, how we handle other people's expectations, and how we turn them into competitiveness. It's really the story of Chris - how she outgrows her father's expectations, Tingloff's expectations, and even her lover Tory's expectations - to take control of what she really wants for herself, an Olympic pentathlon place. The end (BIT OF A SPOILER) is wonderful in the process, with Chris persuading the injured Tory to forget what's expected of her and go for the victory she too wants for herself.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Ironic Movie July 15 2004
Format:VHS Tape
I liked the movie when I saw it in the early 80s because of the break through "love" scenes and the sports theme. Right now I'm listening to a late night talk show interview with Mariel Hemmingway! I was drawn to this site because I was looking for some info on Jodi Anderson who acts in the movie. I knew her because she worked out in my gym in the 1980s and also worked there. In reality the sports part could have been based on her. In 1980 when she was 22 she won both the pentathlon and the long jump in the Olympic trials for the boycotted Moscow games. She also represented the USA in the pentathlon in the 1984 LA Olympics but was injured and withdrew. Considering the fame (and money) that USA female track athletes achieved in 1984 and later, the boycott was a tragedy for her and the other athletes most of whom are relatively unknown.
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Format:VHS Tape
This film has EXACTLY the right ingredients for being one of the best Guy Flicks of all time. First, the behind-the-scenes look at athletic training techniques is incomparable. The preparation methods are highly educational, the stretching, the warm-ups, the cool-downs -- actually seeing these activities demonstrated is invaluable for aspiring athletes. Also, the details about various events were intriguing -- setting the blocks for sprinting, determining one's "pace" for high-jumping, the muscular ballet employed for the shot put. Watching Coach Scott Glenn (Urban Cowboy's "Wes Hightower") was inspirational, he obviously knew how to get the most from a team member. And the work-outs themselves were marvelous, the long runs, the hill-climbs, the post-workout massages and other physical therapy, with particular attention to specific body areas -- all of this information is extremely important for any male athlete, and should probably be viewed several times, numerous times, again and again, in order to ensure full comprehension and complete appreciation.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I Love it!
I can see why this movie is on the list of favorites. It was very moving and showed the extreme emotions that love causes. I would highly recommend it.
Published on Jan. 23 2003 by "maybeiam"
1.0 out of 5 stars Personal Best?
Let's see: early on in the movie Mariel Hemmingway does a nude scene as a shy 15-year-old being seduced by the 35-year-old lesbian who got her stoned. Read more
Published on Jan. 4 2003 by Don Schenk
2.0 out of 5 stars Dated babes work up a sweat
I'm sorry I cannot agree with the majority about this movie. Maybe it's one of those 'you gotta be there to get it' things (it might have been breathtaking in the 80's) but I... Read more
Published on Nov. 20 2000
5.0 out of 5 stars All time favorite "jock" movie
So, I'm having a party conversation with a lesbian friend and "Personal Best" comes up. She denounces it as a lousy portrayal of lesbianism. Read more
Published on June 18 2000 by J. C. Woods
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional film; one to be enjoyed over and over!
Whether you viewed this film when it first appeared in the '80s or today, you cannot help but get the feeling that you are right there w/Tory (Patrice Donnelly) & Chris (Mariel... Read more
Published on July 8 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Sports and love between two women touch your heart.
This is a film about competition in sports and about the love/sexual atraction between two women. The scenes that capture the more difficult moments in sports competition (the... Read more
Published on May 15 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars Emotionally satisfying & realistic - comedy, pathos, passion
Well-shot scenes of passion between the two lead actresses and (mostly) realistic track&field sequences make for exciting viewing. Scott Glenn does well in an early role. Read more
Published on Nov. 25 1998
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