Tropes and cliches can end a movie — unless it’s a comedy.
For years, comedians used the same tired shticks over and over again to brilliant results.
The difference is in the performer, and Marathon, an indie mockumentary written and directed by Keith Strausbaugh and Anthony Guiduvbaldi, is stocked with talented performers that make even the most tired jokes funnier than they probably should be.
When you tune into Marathon, you won’t recognize a soul on screen. Often, that leads to subpar performances as unknown can mean inexperienced.
In the cast of Marathon, the actors come from revered comic troops in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Strausbaugh and Guiduvbaldi even made a statement about it in their press materials:
Every mock-doc lives and dies by its cast, so the spotlight should be on them, not us. Thankfully, we had a company of Las Vegas comedic stars from Cirque du Soleil, Absinthe, Second City, and Blue Man Group… mixed with a few up-and-coming and hilarious Upright Citizens Brigade actors from LA. That’s our statement.
To perform live on that level has given this cast an excellent framework for the mock-doc send-up and their line delivery lands for laughs.
While I rarely find myself outright laughing during a mockumentary (The exception? Drop Dead Gorgeous), it happened frequently through Marathon, and that’s a win in my book.
Using cliched characters works with Marathon because it’s pushing buttons that we’ve stopped pushing recently.
Entertainment has embraced political correctness to its detriment, and Marathon tosses it to the wind. We need to be willing to laugh at issues that haunt us, and Marathon plucks those strings successfully.
If your first thought is that a movie about a marathon would be boring, you’re not wrong. Even race organizer, Ed Clap (Jimmy Slonina) says that watching any marathon is boring if there aren’t pyrotechnics.
Lucky for us, the majority of Marathon covers five Devil’s Canyon Marathon racers beginning three months before the race.
I’m sure any runner would tell you that the hardest part of the race is the training, and the runners in this race prove that true in relatable and amusing ways.
Winning Devil’s Canyon Marathon, an underfunded local race organized by shoe-store owner Clap isn’t anyone’s dream. For most of them, it’s a means to an end.
For instance, Ryan O’Brien’s (Andrew Hansen with a runner’s physique and wicked comedic chops) dream is to compete in the Boston Marathon. Before Devil’s Canyon, Ryan missed qualifying for the Boston Marathon by nine seconds, leaving him angry and disillusioned.
He’s just the kind of runner that a documentary crew would enjoy, and they use his perceived weakness against him.
Ryan is and believes himself to be the most experienced runner for the race. He’s not wrong, but his arrogance and attitude work against him, and laughing at the character’s expense is done repeatedly as he’s antagonized by the mere presence of the cameraman.
On the other end of the racer spectrum is Emilou Paunch (Kimia Behpoornia), whose budding racing career ends the minute she pulls the welcome packet from the mailbox and sees the reality of running 26 miles in the desert.
She’s a girl after my heart, and despite her early withdrawal, the crew still follows her while she indulges in buttered movie popcorn, cheese puffs, and a marathon of a different sort — a TV show she’s been meaning to watch.
Even better, her decision not to run the marathon benefits her in unexpected ways as her sane, normal position on running is greatly admired by all.
The rest of the runners fall somewhere in the middle.
Jenna Kowalski (Natalia Sullivan) wants her name in the record books — for the fastest time running a marathon in a fruit costume.
Dressed as a banana, she’s facing an uphill battle, but nothing slows her down more than an unexpected nemesis, a race shill sent by Dole in a competing banana suit.
An unexpected pregnancy thwarted Abby Dozier’s (Anais Thomassian) plans to run a marathon the previous year, but training with an out-of-touch husband and a newborn threaten her chances again.
Motherhood is thrown under the bus for laughs, but I’d wager that many mothers will feel Abby’s pain as she struggles for a moment to herself, running close to the house with her baby monitor and begging her cameraman to watch the stroller while she darts into an outdoor lavatory to relieve herself.
As Abby tries to do it all, Thomassian is spot-on as a harried wife and mother whose patience wears thin as her husband’s endeavor to find a pre-filled baby bottle in the kitchen requires unending verbal assistance and encouragement to look with his eyes to find it.
Shareef Washington (Tavius Cortez) might be running to prove to his triathlete sister that he has the competitive edge, but he also really seems into the idea of running.
Unfortunately, as a Black man, his training is particularly tedious as a Black man running is an immediate indicator of wrongdoing to the local cops.
Shareef spends as much time on the sidewalk in handcuffs as he does running, and Cortez plays it as if it’s the inevitability of his race, a portrayal that’s as heartbreaking as he is funny.
There are a few other characters who are featured throughout, but we identify with the runners no matter how ill-fated their marathon aspirations.
Marathon is more a mock-doc for those of us with similar aspirations, whether we push ourselves to the limit without reward or reward ourselves for merely considering the impossible and tossing the idea aside without a second glance.
If you’re easily offended, just don’t watch. Steer clear of comedy in general because the funniest things about us are when we see our foibles displayed in all their painful glory so that we can see how idiotic they really are and can change them for the better.
Marathon is available on VOD wherever you rent and purchase movie titles.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.