Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck’s meditative ‘When She Runs’ is an exercise in patience and isolation.
We all aspire to be somebody someday. It’s an inherent part of our being—to strive for personal betterment. Whether that’s vying for the corner office or winning the approval of a emotionally shallow parent, we always want to be better off today than we were yesterday. But the challenge with achieving goals and dreams is that there is almost always some sort of a price to pay. Nothing comes easy and it certainly doesn’t come cheap. But when every aspect of life points to the drudgery that will consume one’s life without that drive to achieve, achieve, achieve, then it becomes increasingly easy to push obligations and responsibilities aside and put all of one’s focus on making it—whatever “it” may be.
Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck’s quietly deliberate drama When She Runs details this internal struggle between obligation and dream. The film tells the story of Kirstin (Kirstin Anderson) who in her mid-twenties is desperately trying to make the next Olympics as a sprinter. She’s dedicated her entire existence to this goal, hoping that it will help her escape the bleak life of her small town. She’s gone so far as to move away from her husband and young child to the other side of town to focus on her diet, workout regiment and ice-bath soaks, throwing everything she has into making the team. Consuming nothing but boiled chicken and water, Kirstin life is utterly engulfed by the rigors of Olympian athletics, and it’s all culminated in the last day before the trial that could make her dream come true.
Frequent co-directors Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck have returned once more to their familiar grounds of familial strife and personal disappointment. Seldom taking a break from their usual fare, the directors have jumped right back into their favorite thematic elements. Kirstin’s seeming disappearance from her husband and young child’s life is similar to the interpersonal loss of Forty Years from Yesterday and Kirstin’s child’s perception of whimsical chaos is akin to the fantastical tumult that we see in God Bless the Child. The directors have seemingly coalesced the two films into one with When She Runs, which details a sincere maturity from the two. From the breath-taking long take, wide angle shots to the overwhelming stillness that inhabits most of Kirstin’s life outside of her sprinting, When She Runs is a powerfully meditative film that works tirelessly to showcase the drudgery of a mundane life.But similar to their other films, an intense sense of willpower from the protagonist drives them to overcome their stress, loss, or uncertainty.
And while Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck have always worked with non-professional actors, it has never been more obvious than in When She Runs. It seems that other than Kirstin Anderson (who puts in a spellbindingly focused performance), the rest of the cast was uninvested in telling the story of Kirstin. Whether it was the awkward lack of sincerity of her husband or the blandness from her roommate, it seemed that Kirstin was the only actor who was more than willing to show her heart on her sleeve. Which is a revelatory manifest, for most of the film uses mesmerizing long takes that thrive in silence to showcase the Americana slice-of-life that Kirstin is so desperately trying to run away from.
It instills in viewers the idea that this is Anywhere, USA where strip malls rule and nothingness reigns king. And while Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck utilize this technique a bit too many times for it to hold its power (including the age-old and rather overdone lingering long take after the subjects have long left the frame), certain scenes incorporate it to a brilliant degree. From the familial firework extravaganza to the devastating one of her defeatingly eating a cheeseburger, fries and shake, Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck know that the long take shot has power—I just wish they didn’t use it at every opportunity they had.
When She Runs will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 19.