Denis Doyle (Simon Pegg) is about to marry his pregnant fiancee Libby (Thandie Newton) when he gets cold feet and runs away leaving her at the altar. Five years on, he is heartbroken to find that Libby has started dating the high-flying go-getter Whit (Hank Azaria) who is smart, charming, handsome, sophisticated, rich and runs marathons in his spare time. When Denis finds out that Whit is running the Nike River Marathon, Denis decides to run it too, in order to win back Libby and to prove himself to his friends. He is trained by two coaches: his best friend Gordan (Dylan Moran) and his landlord Mr Dastidar (Harish Patel.)
This film is ultimately a story about redemption. Denis Doyle is a cowardly figure, but once he sees what he is missing by letting Libby go, decides to change himself and to prove that he is the right man for her and a good dad for their son Jake. Whilst Simon Pegg is primarily known for his comedy roles, this film shows his versatility as a serious actor. Pegg is very convincing in this film and I thought he gave a good performance. I also quite liked Hank Azaria as the film’s antagonist: Whit. Whilst he begins the film as a charming and sophisticated character, he becomes progressively manipulative and horrible, especially towards Denis whom he constantly chastises and bullies.
Whit’s transformation is very subtle and I think it is done well. Whilst the ugliness of his character isn’t truly revealed until the film’s ending, there are some small hints to it throughout the film. The most notable of these is when Whit is with Jake and Libby sailing boats at the park and Whit refuses to let Jake sail his expensive sailing boat by saying “no, but you can watch me sail it.” Whit’s ugliness progressively builds until the film’s climax, where he and Denis are racing each other in the marathon and Whit harshly trips Denis, leading himself to inadvertently fall and be sent to hospital. Libby and Jake visit Whit in the hospital and Jake plays around with the controls of Whit’s hospital bed saying “you can watch me control it.” This was great comuppence for a slimy character like Whit.
The supporting cast were also great with Dylan Moran and Harish Patel being standout stars. This film is also marked David Schwimmer’s (Ross from Friends) directorial debut and he makes a good job of it. The continues narrative flows well and never feels stilted or fragmented. Whilst the nature of the film prevented Schwimmer from being too artistic, he creates a lovely visual metaphor of Denis Doyle “hitting the wall.” In running or cycling or any endurance sport, there comes a moment where every athlete “hits the wall” and feels that cannot continue, no matter what. Within the film, this is visualised as a literal wall, which Denis manages to break through to complete the marathon.
Whilst this film is funny and it does work as a comedy, I feel that something is stopping it from reaching its potential. Whilst the jokes are good, some are predictable and some just don’t go far enough. After Denis is tripped by Whit, he severely sprains his ankle, but perseveres to finish the race. I also have to question the logic of this. Sure, this moment is supposed to represent Denis’ will and his love for Libby and Jake, but can you really run or limp a marathon with a sprained ankle. Even at the film’s end, where Denis falls metres before the finish line, he is able to force himself to sprint over it when he sees Libby and Jake on the other side. I know, I’m being nitpicky, but this did bother me.
Whilst this film is funny and demonstrates the versatility of a number of actors who are primarily known for comedic roles, it has a few logical holes that stop it from being any better than good.