If you’ve ever needed to lose a few pounds, wanted to get in shape or had friends who let you down, Brittany Runs a Marathon will be a relatable, possibly cringe-worthy two hours that either makes you want to go work out or visit the concession stand so you can eat your feelings.
If you’ve ever successfully reinvented yourself, you’ve recognized the changes that happen all around you, and realize that the things most worth changing aren’t on the outside. The person you need to be and love is, well, you.
Jillian Bell plays Brittany, a fun-loving underachiever whose roommate and best friend is at her best when Brittany is at her worst. Success for Brittany is a direct threat to Gretchen’s (Alice Lee) drug-pushing, alcohol bingeing, outer physical perfection. When she engages in physical activity she "loses too much weight." Really? She’s not much of a friend at all, which becomes apparent when Brittany begins to pay attention to herself instead of Gretchen.
Most doctors don’t tell you to lose weight and exercise. They eagerly write prescriptions for cholesterol lowering medication and focus only on what’s bothering you. If being fat makes you happy, so be it. So imagine Brittany’s surprise when she goes to a doctor who suggests that her BMI is too high and no, he won’t give her Adderall. She should consider getting some exercise.
Thus begins Brittany’s quest to get in shape. Her semi poverty drives her outdoors where exercise is free. Running one block is her first goal, but she gradually increases distance and eventually decides to train for the New York City Marathon. She makes new friends along the way, and ultimately the one friend she needs most – herself.
Some initial comic scenes energize the beginning of this movie. Here we have another fat girl whose humor shields her from criticism, intimacy and responsibility. But her sadness shines through, and the dramatic side of the movie takes over. Both sides of the equation are sensitively handled, intelligently scripted and well acted.
Paul Downs Colaizzo wrote this screenplay based on the true story of his close friend Brittany O'Neill. It is his first film in the Director’s chair. Casting of Jillian Bell in her first lead role paid off. She lost 40 pounds for the role and took up running to better understand the character she was to play. A difficult scene in which she takes to task another heavy woman for being impossibly happy led Bell to be less self-deprecating about herself going forward. The scene is as uncomfortable to watch as the one in Family Stone in which Sarah Jessica Parker inadvertently insults a gay couple. But in this case, Brittany is drunk and deliberate.
So if Brittany Runs a Marathon doesn’t sound like a fun run through Central Park, it’s not, but it does have some likeable characters and endearing moments. Perhaps it should be categorized purely as a drama, and the trailer should downplay the comedy.
Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019) runs 1 hour 44 minutes and is rated R.
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