Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Spirit of the Marathon 2: My thoughts on the lead characters

On June 12th at 7:00 pm six hundred theatres nationwide debuted the long awaited sequel to the smash hit documentary from 2008, Spirit of the Marathon. Spirit of the Marathon II, as it was appropriately named, was much like the first movie wherein the filmmakers followed runners through their training and some of their daily lives as they prepare for and run a marathon. In this second installment the film follows 7 runners of vastly different backgrounds and age groups as they prepare to run the Rome Marathon. That's the broad strokes of what this movie is basically about. With this formula it is the filmmakers job to connect you to the main characters, make you relate to them and care about them. Jon Dunham and crew did a marvelous job of that in the first film that followed 5 characters on their journey to the Chicago Marathon. This film does not do as good a job at that.
 I liked the film. I would gladly see it multiple times over, like I did with Part 1. I will likely buy the DVD. I think non-runners who see it will be motivated to give running a try after seeing it. Casual runners will likely up their game or shoot for a marathon themselves. More serious runners will likely be inspired by the stories to keep doing what they love to do. The film is great, but not as compelling as the first one. If the film's objective was to inspire people to be great, I think they hit their goal but not a slam dunk like the first edition. Let me give you my take on the characters.

Epiphanie Nyirabarame
Kigali, Rwanda
Two-time Olympian

 This women is like Daniel Njenga of the first movie. I say that because they are both African and both had to struggle out of poverty to become World Class Marathoners. Epiphanie describes how Rwanda does not support their athletes unless they are traveling abroad to represent the country and she describes how the culture does not accept women athletes, especially in running. Those descriptions are about the long and the short of it. You are briefly introduced to her family but nothing is presented in a way that makes you really understand how hard it was for her to rise to the level she attained. Come to think of it, I don't know why she ran the Rome Marathon. She never mentioned qualifying for the Olympics or, like in Daniels case, redeeming herself from past years shortcomings. She states that her goal is to beat 2:34:00. Would that be a personal PR? What's the significance of that number? The movie doesn't make it clear so I was not rooting especially hard for her to hit her target. In stark contrast you knew how tough Daniel's life in Kenya was in the original edition. The terrible tragedies that his family endured because of his success. You knew his goal was to win the race after competing in the previous years and taking 2nd and 3rd place. You wanted him to win the race and (SPOILER ALERT) when he doesn't you can see the pain and anguish it causes him as he leans up against a barrier exhausted at the finish line. Epiphanie has a story that some may draw inspiration from but it seems like more depth could have been brought to this portion of the documentary.

Domenico "Mimmo" Scipioni
Rome, Italy
Veteran Marathoner
This guy is great. Mimmo along with his cousin Domenico (see below) are training together to run the Rome Marathon. This will be Mimmo's 40th marathon which is evidenced by the trophies that line the walls of his pizzeria called Pizzerial Ill Podista (The Runner Pizzeria). The bio on the movie website for Mimmo says his family tradition of running the Rome Marathon is in jeopardy due to a nagging injury. That was a minor point in the movie that the filmmakers barely touched on. That's okay, this character is thick enough in its own way without the added drama of the running injury. The movie follows Mimmo for part of his morning prep work at the restaurant, then off to his workout with his cousin and then back to the pizzeria to work until 2am. He is a likable, hardworking, funny and personable guy that really adds a light and fun feel to the movie. I can't say that I was sitting on the edge of my seat rooting for Mimmo to fight the pain and finish the marathon because the film did not tie me to his injury. I did enjoy the time we spent with this character. (SPOILER ALERT) When Mimmo drops from the race it is rather unceremonious and anti-climactic. He simply bids a fellow runner, Silvia, farewell and that's it. I don't know what could have been done differently with respect to presenting this character to the audience but hyping the severity of the injury, the rigorous rehab he may have gone through to get to the start line and what it would mean to him if he could not compete in or finish this marathon would have been a start. Instead we got to know a really nice guy who had a very likable personality. I met a few of those last week too, so what.
Ylenia Anelli
Bareggio, Italy
First-time Marathoner

This is the shallowest character of the entire film. Not an unlikeable character. She seems quite pleasant as a person but her reason for running the marathon did not tug on my emotions in the least. Her and her husband took over a running store in a small town outside of Milan and consequently struggled to keep the doors open because of the bigger mega-stores located a short drive away. This created difficulties in her marriage and when the problem got to be too much to handle she decided she needed a change in her life. The change she decided on was to run a marathon. WHAT? How does that help your struggling store or your turbulent marriage? If anything it's going to add extra pressure to the situation by taking time away from the problems at hand. Marathon training requires a considerable amount of time. At least 5 to 10 hours a week if not more. I understand that running is a major stress reliever and a meditative exercise that helps a person clear their head but training for a marathon will not automatically bring more customers through the front door, nor will it fix the problems of your marriage. At least not directly. She mentions that her and her husband are active type people and her kids are too. She is obviously a very good role model for her two small children. They cheer her on as she completes the marathon as they wipe tears from their eyes. She doesn't really struggle to finish the race, in fact she seems to enjoy herself as she dances to a roadside band at one point in the course. She is a fun character and a likable character but here again the audience was not given much of a reason to care about this woman and her race.

Vasyl Matviychuk
Bilogorodka, Ukraine
Olympic Marathoner Hopeful

This characters story would seem to me to be the easiest to develop and yet the filmmakers choose not to or did a poor job in doing it. This guy is trying to make the Ukrainian Olympic Team and yet I don't know why? Is it a childhood dream? I don't know what it would mean to him to make the team. Would it change your families life forever? Are you broke and struggling to make ends meet? What have you sacrificed to make this dream happen? How has that sacrifice affected you and the people in your life? NONE of this is made clear in the film so consequently the only motivation to cheer for this guy is because you know he wants to win. The film does show a day in the life of him and his training but even that leaves you thinking, "That's it?" His fiancé mentions how she can not eat what she wants because he is always on a diet. That seems to be the extent of their struggles. His finish at the end is shown in a rather mundane way given how he places. In the first Spirit movie the 2 elites had appropriate reactions given how they placed. It is only at the very end where he does a post race interview long after the marathon was over that he tells you how he placed and how he reacted to it. NONE of that was really shown. How weird is that!
Julie Weiss
Santa Monica, California
Veteran Marathoner
This runner has an odd back story that is touching and perplexing all at the same time. First and foremost is the reason why she is running. She is raising money for Pancreatic Cancer by running 52 marathons in 52 weeks starting with the Rome, Marathon. Second off is her personal story of having run 18 marathons and not being able to finish any of them??? On her 19th attempt which was motivated by a tragedy in her family she finished the marathon. If you try and fail to run 26.2 miles I would imagine you dropped out at various distances, meaning you have run quite a few long runs both in training and in the races themselves. With all that long run training building up to all of these Marathons you never developed a proper pace or a proper level of fitness or the ability to endure when the going gets tough? That is hard to believe but taken on face value I will say that is unusual. I ran 7 or 8 runs in the 15 to 22 mile range in the months leading up to my first marathon, The San Francisco Marathon. This is a hilly course that challenges runners at all levels and I at least completed it. She obviously ran many, many more 15- 22 mile runs over the span of her marathon attempts and yet she couldn't complete the distance? I'm belaboring the point but it strikes me as very odd if not contrived. The next aspect of Julie is that she has a cheerleader personality that is very sweet. She seems upbeat and positive about running and helping others to learn to run and that is awesome. Unfortunately she is a blond haired, large chested woman that comes off as a stereotypical "blond chick". I've seen people on Facebook comments refer to her as "annoying". I wouldn't go that far but I empathize with their position. In the end she completes the marathon in about 5:30: or thereabouts and that's just that. 1 marathon down and 51 to go. I mention the time because that shows that she was running a slower pace. On the one hand that is not an impressive time but on the other hand it is a good idea to go easy with 51 more marathons to go. Julie is a polarizing character if anything. You will either love her upbeat personality or take her as an annoying blond chick bouncing herself around for the eye candy factor.

Cliff Scott
Jobstown, New Jersey
First-time Marathoner
This is the most touching story of all. He has a very emotional reaction at one point in the story and I'm trying not to reveal what that's all about. I want you to experience the scene as blind as I did. The odd part is that he never really says that he is running this marathon for his "situation". I'm not sure why he ran the Rome marathon? If he said why I missed it. That's how well the producers of the film drove that point home. He talked about starting to run after getting out of the military and he spoke of his cross country coaching so you knew he was a runner with knowledge. I didn't think he would have too much trouble completing the distance but he does. This character is shown struggling through the miles and it makes you feel for him in that way. I'm not cheering for him because his motivation for running the marathon is incredibly compelling, I don't know his motivation and therefore could care less. I'm cheering for him because he is a likable guy and he is struggling. My natural reaction to this is to cheer him on. Tell him to hang in there. He can do it. Don't give up! I wont spoil how it ends but rest assured the producers got it right with this one. They show an appropriate response to an incredible marathon run. Look forward to this guys story when watching the movie.

Domenico Anzini
Rome, Italy
Veteran Marathoner
Cousin to Mimmo, this 73 year old character is another favorite of mine. Mostly because he is a very likable person. He comes across as a fun guy to hang with and a disciplined guy to train with. I like his grit and attitude towards completing marathons at his age. Domenico does not have a  compelling reason to complete yet another marathon in his long history of marathon running other than to test his durability late in life. I suppose that's a reason but not a compelling reason given the fact that he's done this marathon every single year since it's inception. I never doubted him finishing the race. He is a predictable but likable character. Look for the restaurant scene the night before the marathon. It's a good time that really lets Mimmo and Domenico's personalities pop out!
My final thought. Great movie that should be seen no doubt. Could have been better as evidenced by the first Spirit of the Marathon which was better.