Brittany Runs a Marathon is a comedy about a woman with weight issues who decides to get healthy by training for the New York City Marathon. It is about how a woman who has been closed off for so long finally begins to take responsibility for herself. It shows how challenging this is for her, both physically and emotionally, never leaning on false emotion or easy laughs. It is honest, moving, inspiring and very funny. It presents Brittany with all her flaws as she moves forward to a better life. This is not about romance; it is about self-empowerment. I was impressed with how it sidesteps the cliché (and condescending) “fat girl” drama, instead seeing her as a three-dimensional person.
Brittany is a 28 year-old party girl living with her best friend and struggling to make ends meet. After a doctor tells her she needs to lose weight for the sake of her health, she forces herself to start running. She makes friends in a running group and sets her sights on the marathon. Her dedication gives her a new outlook, motivating her to make some changes.
The first thing Brittany gets right is its casting. Jillian Bell is the perfect mix of witty, self-deprecating, embarrassed and insecure. She is smart and funny, making her seem like a great person to hang out with, but she lacks the self-confidence and drive to do anything with her life. Bell is a funny actress, with great comedic timing. She plays Brittany as someone who makes jokes to disguise how unhappy they are. When she starts running, she has to confront what her life has become, and see herself for who she is. Bell makes those revelations relatable. The most important thing here is that Brittany is easy to like, even with her sharper edges. Viewers have to want her to get healthier, whatever that means to her. This is a deeper process than these types of self-improvement stories usually allow for. Bell proves she can carry comedy and drama, oftentimes in the same scene.
Brittany Runs a Marathon (98 minutes, minus the end credits) is based on the experiences of a friend of writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo. That may explain why his movie is so sympathetic, while not necessarily making it easy on Brittany. Her battle is not just about weight loss. She has a lot she needs to change if she is going to turn her life around. This is a very understanding look at what she goes through. There is no manufactured drama. It is unnecessary since what she has to do is already so tough. Colaizzo uses humor to keep things grounded and to prevent it from ever getting too maudlin. In his hands, Brittany accepts Brittany and watches as she runs toward accepting herself.
Brittany Runs a Marathon is a cross between comedy, drama and sports movie. Amazingly, all three of those contribute equally in its success. It is a touching story that does not rest at feel-good. It works so well because Brittany is a lovable character and Jillian Bell is so good at bringing her to life. Also, it never pretends running will solve all her difficulties or that her weight is her primary problem. Possibly due to the filmmaker’s closeness with the real-life subject, it truly understands the story it is telling. I came in expecting to laugh and got so much more. This is a surprisingly uplifting journey.
4 out of 5
Jillian Bell as Brittany
Utkarsh Ambudkar as Jern
Michaela Watkins as Catherine
Micah Stock as Seth
Lil Rel Howery as Demetrius
Alice Lee as Gretchen
Written and Directed by Paul Downs Colaizzo