“All body types are beautiful.”
Any time a comedy centers around a young girl discovering the power of a leaner body, you have a right to be skeptical. There exists a fine line between healthy lifestyle choices and genetics; crossing too far into either and you’re sure to mislay a few jokes and offend half of your audience. Thankfully Paul Downs Calaizzo’s Brittany Runs a Marathon understands its position, authentically incorporating both sides of the argument as it focuses in on a lost soul desperately in search of a purpose.
Jillian Bell stars as Brittany, a run of the mill New Yorker who enjoys the fast-paced lifestyle that comes with a Manhattan address. Always the life of the party, Brittany is best friends with her roommate Gretchen. Pretty, petite and young, Gretchen yearns for the life of a social media influencer, regularly using Brittany for affirmation and support. But when a doctor gives Brittany some hard love, she finds herself in a bit of a predicament.
Enter Catherine, her newly single neighbor who has a knack for being responsible, put-together, and worst of all…a runner.
The first act, in all its glory, allows Calaizzo to set the narrative effectively. Based on a true story, he carefully introduces each of his players, giving them a specific purpose within the context of Brittany’s journey. To make for an enormous internal transformation, Calaizzo holds back nothing, shining a bright life on the hidden anguish and self-doubt that sits at the center of our main protagonist.
Even as Brittny joins a running group, connects with a running buddy, and begins to warm up to Catherine, it is evident that she still struggles to let go of her past. It isn’t until the three of them decide to run the New York City Marathon that the film enters its second gear, highlighting a fully committed, albeit hesitantly so, runner.
But Brittany leads a destructive lifestyle. Freeing herself from that takes time, effort, and some life-altering decisions. This, in a nutshell, is what makes Brittany Runs a Marathon so damn good. Rather than montage its way through radical, unrealistic changes, Calaizzo forces us to sit through it all. By doing this, he shows that while Brittany’s transformation is part exercise and diet, it’s also the absence of other, life-draining influences that surround her.
However, don’t think that Brittany snaps and has it all figured out. Much like life, our newfound fitness guru has to go through the same painful struggles that we do when we decide to adopt new habits. The art of compromise, moderation, and patience are slowly incorporated, especially as Brittany is forced to prioritize and better understand what she wants out of life. Sure the marathon is quickly approaching, and she is coming to the end of her dedicated training, but she must deal with the pain and suffering that lies beneath the surface to effectively move on. And though we don’t want to, sometimes we have to accept help to find our inner peace.
Though it’s title centers on the act of running, Brittany Runs a Marathon is truly a film about self-esteem, friendship, camaraderie, and mental health. They just couldn’t fit all that on the poster.