Marathon (2021)

According to legend, in 490 B.C.E. a messenger ran without stopping from Marathon to Athens to report as quickly as possible the improbable victory of the Athenian army against the overwhelming numbers of an invading Persian force, and dropped dead after giving the news to the Assembly. This 26-and-a-half-mile dash would become the model for the kind of marathon event that gives Keith Strausbaugh and Anthony Guidubaldi’s mockumentary its title – but unlike the self-sacrificing actions of this Greek hero, the characters in Marathon are a selection of American also-rans whose motivations for entering the race are rather less noble.

Take Ryan O’Brien (Andrew Hansen), a joyless cuckold and bitter divorcé whose smug sense of superiority blinds him to his many failings; this arrogant, idiotic arsehole sees the Marathon as a Nietzschean test of his Übermensch status. Or Abby Dozier (Anais Thomassian), who will do anything to run away from the endless pressures of being mother to a demanding newborn baby and wife to the domestically incompetent, casually racist Michael (Marc Roberts). Or Shareef Washington (Tavius Cortez), whose quixotic goal to overcome systemic racism (despite being unable even to run outdoors without being arrested by the police) seems no less hopeless than his desire to win the approval of his triathlete sister Sequoia (Tiffany Luce), who insists contemptuously, “If everyone can do it, then it’s not a sport. Is shitting a sport?”

Then there is Jenna Kowalski (Natalie Sullivan), a single, driven woman who hopes to get into the Guinness Book Of Records for the fastest run-time from someone dressed as a fruit – even as her determination to be top banana keeps slipping up on Ben Duffy (Roberto Raad), an accident-prone imbecile hired as yellow-skinned product placement by the sponsors. As these characters converge, in various states of exhaustion and disrepair, on the Devil’s Canyon desert marathon managed with enthusiasm – but without permits – by Ed Clap (Jimmy Slonina), we see the toll that all this training and tenacity has taken on them. Meanwhile, playing control to these competitors is Emilou Pauch (Kimia Behpoornia), who quits while she is ahead (literally seconds after hearing how far she would need to run), and then, liberated from the stresses of marathon preparation, kicks back and enjoys herself, seeing every aspect of her life improve along the way.

It is the ultimate, deeply subversive message of this Christopher Guest-style mock doc: that in the competitive arena that is the American Dream (of which the marathon is clearly a microcosm), most entrants end up losers, while the one who does best has conscientiously refused from the outset to participate in all these absurd, utterly unfun shenanigans. Marathon is very funny, as these characters witlessly expose all their flaws and foibles in their to-camera interviews – but the title of a sex tape that Ben had previously filmed, Too Little Too Late, haunts this ensemble of aspirants and escapists who seem to be running merely to stand still. 

strap: Keith Strausbaugh and Anthony Guidubaldi’s mockumentary tracks an ensemble of life’s also-rans preparing for a long-distance race

© Anton Bitel