Brittany Runs a Marathon

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.
Should I see this movie?  


My first thought when we considered going to see this movie was, “What a dumb title,” and I still think they could have come up with something more grammatically clever. With a cast full of unknowns and a budget of only five millions dollars, I longed for a sports-related movie similar to 1979’s Breaking Away, a feel good sleeper that inspired and excited with half the budget.
What isn’t apparent, either in the trailer or until about half way through this film is that the production company, Affirm Films, makes movies that appeal to Evangelical Christians. The religious tone of the film was kept under wraps until the plot needed the help of a higher power to succeed. At that point, the spiritual message becomes very heavy handed and I felt that the movie could be used in a confirmation class or Sunday school.
They say that God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle. So, I guess when a local employer shuts their doors, resulting in the school basketball team being depleted of athletes who defect to another town, it becomes too much for coach Harrison (Alex Kendrick) to handle. Adding to his troubles is a pay cut and his reassignment to the school cross-country team. The team has only one member, young Hannah (Aryn Wright-Thompson) who has asthma and no parents. The grandmother she lives with is aware she’s stealing things, demands that she return her latest acquisition, and then goes to work. She seems a bit angry, perhaps resentful of the role she’s taken on as guardian.
A coincidental meeting leads Coach to the hospital room of a dying patient who turns out to be Hannah’s supposedly dead father. The coach and his wife take it upon themselves to introduce the two, unsure of how simmering Grandma will react. Of course she explodes. The father was a drug abuser who walked out when Hannah was a baby, and Grandma has been “protecting” her from his further influence ever since. In real life this subterfuge would have led to litigation.
A little further research finds that Alex Kendrick, an ordained Baptist minister and his brother Steven, are the Kendirck Brothers who produced this and other similarly inspirational films like FlywheelFireproof  and Courageous. Alex not only stars in, but writes, directs and produces. And he’s not a bad actor.
Honestly, I felt that I’d been tricked into seeing this movie, and I guess by saying that I’m admitting that I wouldn’t have attended had I known what I learned along the way. That said, it was a nice movie, a feel good experience, adequately scripted, filmed and acted, but could have achieved the same result without several cringe-worthy scenes in which people fall to their knees and beg God for help. To examine the script further requires a philosophical debate that serves no purpose. But I also wonder about the motivation behind somewhat disguising the film’s nature. Was it for wider distribution, increased ticket sales, or the hope of spreading the good word further than they might, had they been more forthright, leaving them preaching to the choir?
Forgiveness and redemption are served in heaping helpings in Overcomer. If you have a couple of hours free because you skipped church this week, consider opening your heart, mind and a box of popcorn to this helpful message movie.

Overcomer (2019) runs 1 hour 59 minutes and is rated PG.

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