The power in Paul Down Colaizzo’s Brittany Runs a Marathon comes from the fact that we so easily identify with the titular character, a young woman who isn’t living her life as much as floating through it. She makes no conscious choices where the direction of her life is concerned; she allows herself to be acted upon rather than acting in her own best interests. As a result, she finds herself in a dead-end job, is stuck with a self-absorbed roommate who walks all over her and has picked up more than a few bad habits. She’s overweight, a condition she’s been in denial about, a problem that’s affected her in ways she can’t possibly understand.
Marathon charts Brittany’s journey towards realizing that it’s all right to be less than perfect, that we are all fallible and that the self-loathing that can result from being hard on yourself is a trap that’s far too easy to fall into and one that’s incredibly difficult to escape. To Colaizzo’s credit, he doesn’t insult our intelligence by making our heroine’s trial too easy.
A visit to the doctor’s office in a failed attempt to get a prescription for Adderall is the wake-up call for Brittany. She’s told she has high blood pressure, likely a fatty liver and needs to lose 55 pounds. This is not what she wants to hear but once she takes a good look at herself, as she catches a glimpse as reflected off a stainless steel hot dog cart no less, she realizes change is in order. She begins by running one block…then two…then a few more, until she’s able to knock off a couple miles, albeit with great effort.
She’s not alone in trying to get her life together. She meets Glenn (Adam Sietz), a dad attempting to prove to his daughter that he has a modicum of athleticism, and Catherine (Michaela Watkins), a woman with her own past and issues who finds solace in blocking out the world when she’s running. They decide to train for and run the New York Marathon and pick each other up when need be. The friendship on display is a much-needed example of the sort of kindness we are desperately in need of today.
As Brittany, Jillian Bell is a revelation. Traditionally cast in comedic roles, she shows she’s just as adept at delivering a poignant performance as she is wise-cracking. The actress brings Brittany’s vulnerability out in subtle ways, with simple gestures that reveal her lack of confidence, the inability to look anyone in the eye or the nervous comments she makes that reveal her insecurities. It’s a genuine, lived-in performance, a relatable turn that builds throughout the film and results in a sincere catharsis as we find ourselves experiencing with her every low and gloriously, her final triumph.
There are problems with Colaizzo’s script. There are scenes and relationships that require more explanation than is provided, while there’s some rather significant events that happen that are mentioned in passing which are desperately in need of further explanation. But no matter, the movie’s powerful message trumps all of this. Inspirational but never preachy, moving but never saccharine, Brittany Runs a Marathon is a powerful testament to overcoming our greatest enemy and learning to love the person that’s so easy to hate – ourselves. Not preachy or obvious, this is a sincere film that winds up moving the viewer with a sense of honesty that’s far too rare.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.