No one makes Christopher Guest movies like Christopher Guest, as filmmakers Anthony Guidubaldi and Keith Strausbaugh prove with their Guest-style mockumentary Marathon. But just because Marathon doesn’t match up to the brilliance of Guest films like Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show doesn’t mean that it isn’t entertaining, and Guidubaldi and Strausbaugh put together an appealing cast of oddball characters for their breezy, fun comedy.
Structurally, Marathon is almost identical to Guest’s best-known films, following a range of characters in a niche pursuit as they prepare for a major event that provides the movie’s climax. Here, it’s a handful of runners training for the Devil’s Canyon Marathon, a decidedly third-rate knockoff of major running events. Taking place somewhere in the Nevada desert, Devil’s Canyon is a qualifying event for the more prestigious Boston Marathon, which is what draws serious runner Ryan O’Brien (Andrew Hansen), the closest the movie has to a main character.
Other race participants include harried mother Abby Dozier (Anais Thomassian), who’s trying to carve out some time for herself away from her husband and newborn son; focused athlete Shareef Washington (Tavius Cortez), who’s always been overshadowed by his overachieving triathlete sister; misunderstood dreamer Jenna Kowalski (Natalie Sullivan), who’s determined to break the world record for running a marathon while dressed as a fruit; and hammy actor Ben Duffy (Roberto Raad), who’s been hired by Dole as a sort of spoiler for Jenna’s record-setting effort.
There’s also Emilou Paunch (Kimia Behpoornia), who quits her race training on the first day but remains a subject for the movie anyway, and race organizer Ed Clap (Jimmy Slonina), who has a somewhat deluded sense of his event’s prestige and importance.
The movie’s biggest assets are its stars, a mix of performers from Las Vegas production shows and veterans of the LA improv scene. Guidubaldi and Strausbaugh create relatively one-dimensional characters for the actors to play, and often rely on the same jokes about each one. (It’s somewhat amusing to see Shareef explain that as a Black runner, he can’t train in public without cops chasing him, but it’s less amusing by the seventh or eighth time the movie recycles the same bit.) But the performers make their characters charming and funny even when they aren’t delivering specific jokes, and the standout stars even bring some pathos to these ridiculous people.
One thing that makes Guest’s movies endure as more than joke-delivery machines is the way he and his actors find genuine emotional connections amidst the absurdity, and in its best moments, Marathon achieves that as well. Thomassian in particular conveys Abby’s relatable frustrations and thwarted ambitions, making her sympathetic and endearing without turning her into the target of the jokes. Ryan is more of a pathetic figure, especially as his insecurity bubbles over into impotent fury, but Hansen keeps him grounded even as he grows increasingly unhinged.
It’s also just funny watching Jenna and Ben spend nearly the entire movie wearing banana costumes (including when they inevitably end up sleeping together). Ben and Ed are the most buffoonish figures, and it’s easy to imagine a Guest regular like Bob Balaban or Fred Willard as the clueless, unduly confident Ed. These actors may not quite be in that league, but they’re not far off, and Guidubaldi and Strausbaugh know how to showcase their talents. That makes Marathon a worthy addition to the genre that Guest mastered.