When I watched the trailer for Brittany Runs a Marathon, I thought it looked like a feel-good, humorous film that might manage to get some of the issues around weight, diet, and exercise correctly. I’m a fat girl. I’ve learned to accept myself and I like who I am but I get disturbed and perturbed by films that attempt to capture what it’s like and get it wrong. This is not that film. Not only does it get it right but it hit home for me in so many ways that by the end of the film, I was in tears. It managed to capture the issues surrounding society and weight loss. It painted an honest picture of what it was like to lose weight, to learn positive habits but also learn to accept yourself without the negative images that society reflects back at us so often.
In Brittany Runs a Marathon written and directed by Paul Downs Colaizzo, in his directorial debut, Brittany (Jillian Bell) is a hard-partying young woman in her late twenties who gets a wake-up call when she goes to the doctor to get score some Adderall. Instead, the doctor gives her a different prescription: get healthy. Brittany’s life is a mess, she’s underemployed and living with her friend, Gretchen (Alice Lee) and lacks funds so she can’t join a gym. Too proud to ask for help, Brittany is at a loss until her seemingly together neighbor Catherine (Michaela Watkins) comes to her aid and gives her a push in the right direction. Start out small. So Brittany does, lacing up her Converses and running one mile. Then two. Finally, she joins a racing club and makes plans with her new running partners, Catherine, and Seth (Micah Stock), to tackle the New York Marathon. But losing the weight is not the true battle as she discovers: accepting herself is.
Brittany Runs a Marathon touches very close to home for me so I may be biased on this one. But what I liked best is the unflinching, honest but still humorous look it takes at being overweight and trying to become healthy. I say becoming healthy because ultimately, it is not about Brittany losing the weight, it’s about her taking responsibility for her life and making positive changes, accepting herself and letting others love her. This film takes the girl that would normally be the sidekick and turns her into the star. Which is exactly what accepting yourself is about. In so many ways, it completely illustrates the ways that people as a whole treat you differently when you weigh more. There is a scene where Brittany keeps arriving at her train late and the door closes on her. Except when she’s lost weight, someone holds the door for her. It is all those little aspects that people never realize or take for granted that this film demonstrates so well. It shows how we absorb the negative body images and views that people have of us into what we believe about ourselves. Brittany is told she is lazy because she’s bigger so she believes it. Once she starts running, she begins to realize the truth, that she is in control of who she is, not others.
Another aspect that is articulated so exceptionally in this film is the difference between toxic relationships and positive, loving friendships. Brittany’s best friend Gretchen encourages negative behavior but only because it makes her feel less insecure to have an overweight friend around. In real life, we are surrounded by people like this and like Brittany, we must find a way to attach ourselves to loving people who will support us and help us grow, not demean us or tear us down.
This film flips the narrative, the typical relationships, and the typical stars. Brittany is a big girl who instead of being the sidekick, gets to be the star. In addition, she ends up in a relationship with Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar) of Southeast Asian/Indian descent and not once is his ethnicity ever an issue or part of the plot. It is taken for granted that he is the romantic lead and this change is part of what makes the film charming. The pair has genuine chemistry but also humor that adds layers to the film. We get to see some real change in the romantic leads in a film and I find that both unique and about time.
In addition to the elements of Brittany’s weight and how honest that presentation is, I also found the story didn’t follow predictable patterns. Normally, in a comedy-drama, you’ll see the protagonist achieve great success, win the guy, win the race. In this movie, the character struggles with setbacks, with accepting herself but also realizing that the small goals are worth working toward. She’s not working on winning the big race, just on finishing it. She isn’t’ focused on a brand new life but realizing her potential, the job she wanted from the beginning and making small changes until she reaches her goals. That’s a different story from the usual fare and I liked that change.
As much as I’ve raved about the story, this movie wouldn’t work without it’s cast. Jillian Bell is brilliant as Brittany. She evokes humor and hurt in the same scene. You can see the character’s insecurities creeping under the skin on every expression of Jillian’s face and her portrayal of Brittany is honest and unflinching but also humorous and loving. Utkarsh Ambudkar has beautiful chemistry with Jillian and I love the way the romance grows out of a friendship. The supportive friends, Michaela Watkins as Catherine and Micah Stock as Seth are portrayed as real people, not stereotypes and their acting is heartwarming and emotional. Lil Rel Howery as Demetrius, Brittany’s brother in law, is honest and charismatic. Alice Lee as Gretchen is absolutely perfect in her role. The true star is Jillian but she is surrounded by talented people.
The only part that felt off was the marathon itself. There were points that dragged toward the end but truthfully, I was so wrapped up in the story that I didn’t really notice until the end. There are other points along the way that are slower but those scenes help build the character or the emotional impact of the story.
If you’ve ever had someone assume you were lazy because you were a larger body type, shoved people away because you didn’t think they would accept you, or if you used humor to deflect an uncomfortable situation, this is the film for you. It is for all the fat girls and boys who struggle to accept themselves because society has told them they are wrong. And it shows that you can love yourself, with or without the weight. Even if you don’t have any of those images or thoughts, the humor is inescapably funny, the story is real and honest, and Jillian Bell is fantastic as is the rest of the cast. The film is both inspiring and moving, worth watching more than once.
Rating: 4.5 scales out of 5.