Directed by: Paul Downs Colaizzo
Premise: An overweight woman in her late twenties (Jillian Bell) decides to change her lifestyle and she begins training for the New York City Marathon. In the process she reevaluates her relationships and career choices.
What Works: Brittany Runs a Marathon descends from the movies of Judd Apatow. Even though Apatow is in no way connected to this film, Brittany Runs a Marathon has a lot in common with Apataow’s Trainwreck and Knocked Up. It has an adjacent sense of humor, focuses on a similar kind of character, and plays on some of the same themes like protracted adolescence. But Brittany Runs a Marathon is better than some of those movies. It is more economical (Apatow’s films are often too long), has a greater variety of characters, and it is a little more sophisticated than some of Apatow’s films. Brittany Runs a Marathon is quite funny. The title role is played by Jillian Bell and she is funny and has an affable screen presence. But the character’s humor is of a particular sort that is often found in people who are overweight or otherwise not conventionally attractive; it’s comedy as a way of making one’s self welcome in an otherwise hostile social environment. Bell and the filmmakers are aware of that and integrate this understanding into the subtle character details. Brittany Runs a Marathon effectively mixes comedy and drama. The movie is consistently funny but there is a pain underneath the humor that is vivid and real. The filmmakers convey the discomfort and shame of being overweight in a society that values thinness but Brittany Runs a Marathon isn’t just about weight loss. This is really the story of a young woman realizing her value and taking responsibility for her life and the film deals with the difficulty of her transformation, both physically and psychologically, with a considerable amount of sophistication. The running scenes capture the physical difficulty of moving from a sedentary to an active lifestyle but they also convey Brittany’s self-consciousness. And movie almost always integrates this into the visuals rather than spelling it out. This is smart and perceptive filmmaking.
What Doesn’t: Brittany Runs a Marathon suffers from some plot elements that are cliché or without tension. She begins the film having to overcome her self-doubt as well as the physical challenges of beginning an exercise program. Once Brittany passes through those obstacles the drama flattens. She makes physically, professional, and social progress without any additional complications. Things do happen late in the movie that upset her progress but the plotting comes across forced in the way it stages a falling out between Brittany and her friends. The weakest element of the film is the love story. Actors Jillian Bell and Utkarsh Ambudkar do well and their banter is amusing. But the romance is canned, like the plot of a sitcom, and it works through a predictable pattern with very little heartache or stakes.
Bottom Line: Brittany Runs a Marathon is a nice and enjoyable movie that is rewardingly smart and nuanced. The plotting isn’t exactly original but the performances, especially by Jillian Bell, and the details of the filmmaking elevate this material.
Episode: #766 (September 15, 2019)