Hilarious, heartfelt, and all-too-human, Brittany Runs a Marathon is based on the true story of director Paul Downs Collaizzo’s friend Brittany (Jillian Bell) and her quest to run the New York Marathon. Chronicling the false starts and set-backs that come with trying to get fit, Brittany’s zingy one-liners hide a deeper pain; one she may find tougher to outrun.
Party girl Brittany is incredulous when a doctor suggests that she needs to lose 50lbs (“I feel like you’re missing the point of all those Dove ads,” she quips). Balking at the cost of the gym, she tries running. Having embarked on my own running journey—from being regularly outrun by my wheezy bulldog to being able to walk/run/drag myself around a half-marathon this year—it was refreshing to see someone struggle with the reality of it all. From digging around in her underwear drawer for a suitable bra, to the first daunting jog to the end of the block, it’s impossible not to root for Brittany as she tries to become “unstuck” in her life. Gradually, she finds unlikely allies in her perky run-loving neighbour Catherine (Michaela Watkins), and in Seth (Micah Stock), who hyperventilates after racing his son. “You’re a goddamn gazelle, Seth,” he tells himself as he puffs through the park.
Brittany’s struggles with self-loathing and her habit of mistaking support for pity erupt in various ways. Although she does lose weight (“11 laptops”) and inspires others, she also loses friendships when she refuses to be the “fat sidekick” anymore. She gains a love interest, fellow dog-sitter, Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar), but Collaizzo avoids the usual clichés: “You usually smell like sweat but today you smell like grandmas,” Jern tells Brittany during a charmingly awkward seduction scene.
As Brittany’s brother-in-law (Lil Rel Howery) points out, “It was never about losing weight, it was about taking responsibility for your life.” The film sidesteps any charges of fat-shaming by showing that internal transformations don’t automatically follow physical ones but, like any change, it all starts with a small step. And sometimes that first step is the hardest.
Brittany Runs a Marathon opens in Vancouver on Friday, August 30.
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