Brittany Runs a Marathon performs flawlessly
It’s a difficult thing indeed to tell a story that simultaneously pays proper service to the body positivity movement while also putting forth a message of personal responsibility toward one’s mental and physical health. Such is the tightrope walk that Brittany Runs a Marathon performs flawlessly from the outset all the way to the finish line.
Color me impressed that a film such as this traverses the minefield of potentially problematic material with grace, precision, and humor. A sort of Rocky for the lost millennial, Brittany Runs a Marathon is a sort of miracle, one that anyone would do right to spend some time with.
Jillian Bell plays the titular Brittany. She’s “the funny girl” as it were, serving as the humorous sidekick for all of her adult relationships, both personal and professional. She loves to drink and get high, oftentimes finding herself in personally debasing situations as a result of her lack of confidence. She hides her feelings behind humor. As such, she’s well-liked, but she never commands much respect, least of all from herself. After her doctor advises her to lose fifty pounds or so (the weight of an adult dog, laments Brittany), our hero decides it’s time to make a change — to make a lot of changes. A few chance meetings later, and Brittany has decided that she will spend the next year training to run the New York Marathon.
As these things go, there are plenty of hurdles Brittany must clear in order to reach her goal, and the bulk of the film covers precisely that. Her social life evolves, her body changes, and her existence is turned upside down in as many ways as you can list, calling into question just what was holding her back in the first place. I suspect that audiences will begin asking themselves the same question.
This is the main strength of Brittany Runs a Marathon. This is the type of movie that can effortlessly inspire its audience to make better choices, follow their goals, all while maintaining a level of self-love that anyone who wishes for success must have. This is such a valuable thing to see on screen. It’s so easy to pass the buck or deflect responsibility when it comes to self care. It’s even harder to reach out and ask for help. This wonderful little film advocates for and demonstrates how to do both, and few viewers will leave the film not feeling inspired to do something, anything, in the name of self-improvement.
Bell is hilarious as always, but also puts forth a grand dramatic performance. It’s not often that a heroines are permitted to behave irrationally on the big screen (we do, however, lend that courtesy to their male counterparts), and Bell makes it all feel so real. Brittany is an imperfect human being who behaves in ways that may not make sense to a judgmental world, but as played here, are so honest to the human experience that even those outside of her demographic markers are sure to relate. Brittany, being an imperfect person, has a few moments of weakness that manifest as truly despicable behavior. The film does not shy away from this and ends up that much stronger for it. Add to this the fact that the Bell undergoes a stunning physical transformation in tandem with her character and it’s hard not fall in love with the whole thing.
Alongside Bell is a diverse array of performers. Michaela Watkins plays her neighbor/eventual mentor Catherine. Micah Stock puts in a nuanced and hilarious performance as fellow challenged runner Seth (he just wants to impress his child!). But the real runaway performance goes to Utkarsh Ambudkar as Jern, Brittany’s equally stunted and lost coworker/friend. I’ll let you try and figure out the proper pronunciation of “Jern,” a name which may or may not be of ethnic origin (which makes for a very humorous repeating bit).
The film dips a bit in the middle at the point where external conflict must enter the picture. Up until the midpoint, the only antagonist is Brittany herself, but with big change from within manifests bigger change from without, and even though the developing plot is neither contrived nor forced, it does sag just a bit. No matter, it’s a short distraction and it’s all in service of a deeply moving finale that will have you cheering.
During a post-screening Q&A with Bell and writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo, they noted how seriously they took the notion of body positivity. It’s not easy to make a story about a woman undergoing notable weight loss without erring on the side of condescension, and it’s clear in the final product how much consideration was given during both writing and filming.
They also noted that in order to capture the film’s one shot of the Philadelphia skyline, they just paid some dude $100 in exchange for roof access to his building. Very very Philly. Go birds.
Ok, see y’all later. I’m gonna go for a run!