"saint ralph" was my second fictional running/marathon movie of 2008 (the first was "run fatboy run" with simon pegg last spring). it arrived via netflix, just in time for the first snowstorm of the season. no races - but a running movie to compensate. saint ralph, set in the early 50's canada, is about a boy's efforts to miraculously win the boston marathon. his is not a bid for running glory, but rather a poignant attempt at a real life miracle that he hopes will bring his mother out of a coma.
despite the seriously preposterous premise, the film delivers some fine entertainment. saint ralph is basically a boy-coming-of-age movie with a running motif. ralph's father died during the war, his mother just slipped into a coma, and he is in constant trouble at the catholic school he attends. as punishment imposed upon him (for, of all things, masturbation) the overbearing headmaster (excuse the irresistible naughty pun) sentences him to run on the cross country team (to, obviously, burn off all that extra energy that drove him to distraction).
while that sequence may seem plausible, lucking out with former 1936 olympic marathoner as the cross country coach seems a stretch. even sketchier is how his off-hand remark that it would be a miracle if anyone on the team won the boston marathon precipitated ralph's quixotic quest to win the race. the miracle requirement came from a nurse looking after his mother. she told ralph only a miracle would bring her mother out of the coma. hence, we get ralph's belief that the miracle of his victory at boston would save his mother.
from there, ralph improbably works up the training ladder - to the point he actually wins some local races. the cross country coach becomes his mentor (and protector). the brakes are applied when the headmaster decreed that to seek to win the marathon under those circumstances would be a sacrilege. he prohibits ralph from going (and the coach from assisting), under threat of expulsion. with obstacle in place, ralph goes to boston.
i'll leave the race outcome to your viewing pleasure. beyond the thumbnail description of the marathon aspect, the film is about much more than running (i.e., ralph's budding romance, his relationship with friends, and his acceptance by erstwhile detractors). the story predates my own parochial school days in brooklyn by almost two decades, yet the atmospherics were a trip down memory lane. and, while not analogous, today's marathoners also strive for boston (most not to win it, just to run it).
it's a great film to watch over the holiday season!