Personal Best was a film released in , the year before I was born. It stars Mariel Hemingway, the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway 1 , and other people that I will talk about later in this essay. The film is known now, if it is known at all it was a box office flop , as a lesbian movie. Though it features a principal lesbian relationship and a substantial number of sex scenes, it is in fact a movie about the entanglement of athleticism and intimacy, and the promise and hazards of a life dedicated to competition. In brief, Personal Best follows two pentathletes 2 , Chris Cahill Hemingway and Tory Skinner played by Patrice Donnelly, a real Olympic hurdler , as they prepare for the Olympic trials and fall in love with one another 3. They are, knowingly, training for a competition that will never be realized: though the trials were still held in Eugene, Oregon, the United States boycotted the summer Olympics, set to take place in Moscow, due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan 4.
Review of “Personal Best”
Personal Best Movie Review & Film Summary () | Roger Ebert
Although Personal Best is arguably the second or third most well-known and influential lesbian film made to date behind Go Fish and Desert Hearts , it has been joked about for so long that it has surpassed cult status, and become almost a cliche in the lesbian community. It was particularly important for lesbians searching for identity in the early 80s who had little else to watch except slasher films and lesbian vampire flicks. But now, over 20 years later, the clothes are dated, the film looks dated, and everything has just gone out of style—except good storytelling, which this film has in spades. She has untapped potential, a fact that is recognized by Tory Skinner Patrice Donnelly , an older pentathlete who takes Chris under her wing and helps her to explore that potential on the track. Pretty soon the women start exploring the potential of other things too.
Lesbian movie fans still talk about Personal Best for its gloriously frank sex scene between Hemingway and real-life Olympic hurdler Patrice Donnelly. I started it when I was 17; I was 21 by the time it came out. Not only did I have to train physically for that amount of time, this character I was playing--this Chris Cahill--was confused and growing up in the world. She just didn't know who she was. By the same token, I think I was a little bit like that myself.
Storyline: Chris Cahill and Torry Skinner are US national caliber track and field athletes, Chris in the meter hurdles, and Torry in the pentathlon. Torry can see the potential in Chris, and tries to convince her coach at Cal Poly, Terry Tingloff, to coach Chris, Terry who will only allow Chris to train with the team without his guidance in he only having seen her disastrous performance at the trials. Although not ideal in that no scholarship money is involved, Chris accepts the offer against the wishes of her father, who currently coaches her.