“We find validation in very unhealthy places sometimes.”
The first time we meet the titular Brittany (the brilliant and committed Jillian Bell), she’s once again late to her dead-end job after hitting snooze and missing the train. We can tell that Brittany is not in a healthy place, mentally or physically. She’s happy to play the role of the jester as a means of deflection, pivoting away from her own sadness. Plenty of late nights out partying have led to weight gain and a puffy, splotchy complexion. Later on a regular check-up with her doctor finds him suggesting she lose upwards of 70 pounds. It’s a reality check, and the prescription is a question with harsh truths as the only answers. He asks, “Would you say that you make healthy lifestyle choices?” Her flabbergasted expression speaks for itself. Brittany Runs a Marathon shows that it’s hard to love someone you don’t respect, especially when they’re the one looking back at you in the mirror.
Brittany’s roommate Gretchen (Alice Lee) is a naturally petite woman, dragging around her dull boyfriend while trying to become a social media influencer. The two ladies, both in their late twenties, often stumble home after the sun’s come up. To them it’s late, but to their neighbor Catharine (Michaela Watkins) it’s usually time for an early morning run. And yet Brittany takes her doctor’s diagnosis seriously. Change needs to be instituted. Her first attempt fails as she sees her warped body in the reflection of a hot dog stand, running away from the street corner’s miserable fun house mirror. But then she finally conquers one block. Then a few more. And before you know it, she jogs with Catherine’s weekend running group, meeting a new, more dependable friend in the supportive Terrence (Dan Bittner). So many of these characters inhabit the background of other movies, and here they get to tell their stories. That’s important.
Her brother-in-law Demetrius (Lil Rel Howery) plays the father figure in her life. There’s also Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar, pulling off the hilarious and heartfelt), an aimless yet charming man who watches over – and moves into – the fancy apartment Brittany is meant to care for the other half of the time. They push each other’s buttons and, as you might guess, strike up a fling. But as is made clear in the title, this is a movie about a woman with a goal: she’s going to run the NYC Marathon. One block will become 26.2 laborious miles. As the seasons change and time passes, so does Brittany. She finds herself as she finds her footing, running towards a goal instead of away from her emotions. The little steps add up to something much, much bigger. You have to cook to consider yourself a cook and you have to write to call yourself a writer. Brittany runs. She’s a runner. She’s finally in control of where her legs take her.
It’s remarkable that Brittany Runs a Marathon – one of 2019’s most overlooked pictures – is writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo’s feature film debut. Inspired by his close friend of the same name, the delicately handled story interweaves romance, comedy and drama into a poignant portrayal of self-actualization and self-worth. This is a movie that proves clichés can be true. That friends come and go but true ones always stay. That you can’t fully love someone else unless you love yourself. And as Terrence tells Brittany, “You don’t do it to win it. You do it to finish it.” Slow and steady might not get you up on the big podium, but it most certainly can help you get first place in your own race. Brittany Runs a Marathon is one of the most inspiring, enlightening films I’ve seen in quite some time.
“Change is possible.”
Rating: 4 out of 5